TWO US advisers who were shot dead in the Afghan interior ministry by a colleague had been mocking anti-American protests over the burning of the Koran, a government source has said.
The description of events behind the withdrawal of all NATO government advisers came as police said a protester was killed and seven US soldiers were wounded in a grenade attack on their base in a sixth day of anti-American protests.
"The advisers were scolding the protesters and calling them bad names", as they watched videos of demonstrations in Kabul, the source said, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
"They called the Koran a bad book in the presence of the guy. After all this the guy had verbal arguments with the advisers and was threatened by them. He gets angry and shoots them. Eight rounds were fired at them.
"He then sneaks out and disappears. No one knew about the incident for more than an hour because the room is soundproofed."
Asked about the account of events, a spokesman for NATO's US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said: "The investigation is ongoing."
Government sources said police were hunting for an Afghan intelligence official suspected of killing the two Americans, while the interior ministry confirmed that "the suspect is one of the employees of the ministry and he is at large".
Local television quoted a source which named the suspect as 25-year-old Abdul Saboor, who had studied in Pakistan and joined the ministry as a driver in 2007 before being promoted.
The attack came amid anti-US protests over the burning of Korans in an incinerator pit at the Bagram airbase. Taliban insurgents have called on Afghans to kill foreign troops in revenge for the incident, and claimed to have been behind the shooting deaths of the two US advisers.
NATO, which has a 130,000-strong US-led military force fighting the Taliban insurgency, has advisers throughout the Afghan government but commanding officer General John Allen ordered them all to be withdrawn.
"Despite being pulled from the ministries, the military advisers remained in contact with ministry personnel," ISAF spokesman Lt Col Jimmie Cummings said.
"We will not let this incident divide the coalition," he said on ISAF's Twitter feed.
But analysts said it had plunged relations between Afghans and their Western allies to an all time low.