(CBC News) - UN staff from Norway, Nepal and Sweden reported killed in Qur'an burning protest
An Afghan official says police have arrested the suspected mastermind behind the attack on a UN mission compound in northern Afghanistan that killed at least 12 people, including seven of the world body's foreign staff.
Deputy police chief in Balkh province, Rawof Taj, said the suspected mastermind was from Kapisa province, a hotbed of the insurgency about 400 kilometres southeast of Mazar-i-Sharif, where the attack occurred.
The victims died after Afghans protesting the burning of Islam's holy book by a U.S. pastor stormed the compound in Mazar-i-Sharif.
The protest began peacefully when several hundred demonstrators gathered outside the UN office after Friday prayers to denounce the Qur'an's destruction, said Munir Ahmad Farhad, a spokesman for the governor in Balkh.
It turned violent when some protesters grabbed weapons from the UN guards, opened fire on the police, stormed the building and set fires inside, he said.
Black smoke could be seen billowing from the building.
Lal Mohammad Ahmadzai, a police spokesman for the northern region, was quoted by Reuters as saying two of the dead were beheaded by attackers during the three-hour rampage.
The topic of Qur'an burning stirred outrage among some Muslims after a small American church in Florida threatened to destroy the holy book last year. The Florida pastor had backed down then but apparently went through with the burning last Sunday, prompting protests in three Afghan cities.
"I've seen the video. They essentially put the Qur'an on trial, find it guilty of murder and say that there are four possible punishments," CBC's David Common said. "They chose to burn it and carried out that 'punishment' right there in their parish."
A police source said the chief of the mission in Mazar-i-Sharif was wounded but survived, and that the dead included employees of Norwegian, Romanian and Swedish nationalities.
The Norwegian Defence Ministry said one of the victims was Lt.-Col. Siri Skare, a 53-year-old female pilot. A Swede and four UN guards from Nepal were also killed. The nationality of the seventh has not released.