Previous reports of Koran burning have led to deadly protests in Afghanistan. In April, 2011, after a fringe protester burned a Koran, a mob in a usually peaceful northern city stormed the United Nations compound and killed at least seven foreigners. In May, 2005, Afghan police killed at least four demonstrators angry over a report that an American interrogator in Guantanamo Bay prison flushed a Koran down a toilet.
While today's reaction was quick and furious, the protests might have been larger if it wasn't snowing and if it had happened at a different time. Many Afghans did not know about the burning because it occurred late last night and news is generally consumed during television newscasts in the evenings, at home. Many Afghans and Westerners fear that protests could get larger Wednesday and the rest of the week.
"Past demonstrations in Afghanistan have escalated into violent attacks on Western targets of opportunity," the U.S. embassy said in statement known as a Warden Message, sent to Americans living in Afghanistan. "U.S. citizens in Afghanistan should remain vigilant and avoid areas where Westerners congregate. Avoid large public gatherings or demonstrations. Do not discuss travel plans or other personal matters with strangers, or in public."
Far to the south, in an area where a surge of U.S. troops has removed many Taliban safehavens, insurgents reminded the local population that they still held considerable sway.
In the Washer district of Helmand, insurgents beheaded four people they accused of spying for the U.S., according to the Helmand governor's spokesman. The Taliban denied any involvement in the executions, claiming they were carried out by Western intelligence officials to bring the Taliban a bad name.