KABUL Matihullah, 24, had always dreamed of becoming a lawyer. Then news spread that Western soldiers had burned many copies of the Muslim holy book at a NATO base in Afghanistan.
He gave up his studies and embarked on a new mission in life -- to become a suicide bomber.
"Since the desecration and burnings of holy books of the Koran, I have been burning with the desire of revenge. It is running in my blood," said Matihullah, wearing the traditional white skull cap worn by many Afghans.
"I have two other brothers to take care of our family and I feel very proud to get my revenge."
The desecration of the Korans, which the United described as unintentional, triggered widespread protests in which 30 people were killed. Afghan security forces turned their weapons on American soldiers.
Two senior U.S. officers were shot dead at their desks in the heart of the Interior Ministry by what Afghan security officials said was a police intelligence officer, stunning NATO and the Kabul government.
The incident also raised the possibility that Afghanistan could see more suicide bombings -- one of the Taliban's most effective weapons -- by those who have concluded that is the only way justice can be served.
"I couldn't do any harm to the Americans by protesting and throwing stones," said Matihullah. "I want to put on the suicide vest and blow them apart."
Suicide bombings have become more widespread across the country in recent months, with assailants taking to innovative tactics such as concealing bombs in turbans and using children.
U.S. President Barack Obama apologised for the burnings of the Koran at Bagram air base. But the anger has not subsided.
U.S. officials have said that the Korans were confiscated from prisoners on the base and mistakenly discarded in an incinerator. Afghan labourers found charred remains.
Western insensitivity to Afghanistan's culture and religion may undermine U.S.-led efforts to stabilise one of the world's most turbulent countries before foreign combat troops withdraw at the end of 2014.
The Afghan army chief of staff, General Sher Mohammad Karimi, said in an interview with Reuters that the Taliban had taken advantage of the Koran burning saga and whipped up anti-Western emotions on its radio programmes and website.
"After the crime committed by foreign invaders, burning holy Korans, the number volunteers who want to fight against the enemy have remarkably increased," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters, speaking of the group's efforts to boost infiltration of Afghan security forces.
"We are now busy placing them inside and outside the enemy lines."
President Hamid Karzai's government is hoping to persuade the Taliban to negotiate an end to the war, now in its eleventh year.
Karzai and NATO have launched an ambitious reintegration programme to enable Taliban fighters to renounce violence and join mainstream society.
Abdullah was one of the few Taliban members who agreed, laying down his weapon to give the nascent peace process a chance.
But the Koran-burning episode is likely to set him on a violent path again.
"The Americans disrespected our religion, our holy Koran. This evil act is unforgivable and Jihad is a must for every Muslim right now," he said.
"Anybody who ignores Jihad is not a Muslim. I will be a proud to be martyred in defence of our holy book."
(Editing by Nick Macfie)
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