CALCUTTA, India – Muslim protesters burned, spit and urinated on a U.S. flag Friday in eastern India, accusing Americans of desecrating Islam's holy book as anger persisted despite the retraction of a magazine report that a Koran was flushed down a toilet at Guantanamo Bay (search).
U.S. officials have said they found nothing to substantiate the Newsweek report that interrogators at the prison camp in Cuba flushed a copy of the Koran down the toilet to unnerve an inmate.
But given frequent reports of mistreatment at the camp from released detainees, some Muslims remained convinced the desecration happened and U.S. officials pressured the magazine to deny the story.
In London, a former prisoner at Guantanamo told a demonstration outside the U.S. Embassy that guards at the camp had mistreated his Koran.
"This was one of the methods they used, throwing the Koran, my Koran, on the floor in my cell. This was in the first month at Camp Delta but it is not something that stopped, rather continued and increased," said Martin Mubanga (search), who was released from the prison in January.
"It's a shame we have had to wait for a magazine to publish and then retract a story concerning the treatment of the Koran," Mubanga said.
He spoke as about 200 protesters gathered outside the embassy, chanting "kill, kill George Bush" and other anti-American slogans. Many in the crowd covered their faces with scarves. A man with a megaphone led chants including "USA watch your back, Usama is coming back" and "bomb, bomb New York."
Thousands also took to the streets in Somalia's capital of Mogadishu and the Palestinian territories, but the demonstrations were nothing on the scale of rioting in Afghanistan last week in which 15 people died and protesters threw rocks at police.
Riot police watched but did not stop some 500 protesters who shouted slogans against the United States and forced a traffic shutdown in the heart of the eastern Indian city of Calcutta.
The protest began at a mosque after Friday afternoon prayers conducted by the "imam" or chief priest, who then led demonstrators to the road.
"Death to America!" they cried as men spat on the flag.
They asked a boy in the crowd to urinate on it, and hit the flag with shoes and leather slippers. The 20-minute protest ended with the burning of two American flags.
Muslims are the largest minority in predominantly Hindu India, forming more than 12 percent of the 1 billion-plus population.
In the West Bank city of Nablus, some 2,500 Palestinian Hamas (search) militants streamed out of mosques Friday chanting, "Death to America, death to Israel."
Muslim preacher Maher Haraz demanded that "America apologize to all Muslims worldwide, and punish those that trampled on the Koran and stuffed it in the toilet."
"There will be a Muslim uprising in the world, an uprising of the Koran," Haraz declared.
Mubanga, 32, was arrested in Zambia in early 2002 and handed over to U.S. officials, who accused him of being an Al Qaeda (search) operative. He denied the accusation.
He said prisoners had asked for notices to be posted warning U.S. soldiers that copies of the Koran should not be thrown on the floor.
"We were not asking to have a gymnasium, we weren't asking to have swimming pools, only that they did not touch the Koran," he said. "But time and time again new units, new soldiers would come and they would use the excuse that these new soldiers did not know how to handle issues around the Koran."
The international Red Cross said Thursday that it had told U.S. authorities about allegations of abuse to the Koran and that action was taken to stop it.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the ICRC's concerns about the handling of the Koran at Guantanamo were consistent with those the Pentagon has acknowledged, such as a Koran inadvertently dropping to the floor.
The Bush administration has called on Newsweek to explain how it got the story wrong and to report on U.S. military practices intended to ensure the Koran is handled with respect. The State Department told its embassies to spread the word abroad that America respects all religious faiths.