KABUL -- Muslims in Afghanistan and Pakistan were skeptical Monday about an apparent retraction by Newsweek magazine of a report that U.S. interrogators desecrated the Koran and said U.S. pressure was behind the climb-down.
The report in Newsweek's May 9 issue sparked protests across the Muslim world from Afghanistan, where 16 were killed and more than 100 injured, to Pakistan, India, Indonesia and Gaza.
Newsweek said Sunday the report might not be true.
"We will not be deceived by this," Islamic cleric Mullah Sadullah Abu Aman told Reuters in the northern Afghan province of Badakhshan, referring to the magazine's retraction.
"This is a decision by America to save itself. It comes because of American pressure. Even an ordinary illiterate peasant understands this and won't accept it."
Aman was the leader of a group of clerics who Sunday vowed to call for a holy war against the United States in three days unless it handed over the military interrogators reported to have desecrated the Koran.
That call for a jihad, or holy war, still stood, he said.
Newsweek originally said investigators probing abuses at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay found that interrogators "had placed Korans on toilets, and in at least one case flushed a holy book down the toilet."
Muslims consider the Koran the literal word of God and treat each book with deep reverence.
Last week's bloody anti-American protests across Afghanistan were the worst since U.S. forces invaded in 2001 to oust the Taliban for sheltering Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network.
Newsweek said Sunday its information had come from a "knowledgeable government source" who told the magazine that a military report on abuse at Guantanamo Bay said interrogators flushed at least one copy of the Koran down a toilet in a bid to make detainees talk.
But Newsweek said the source later said he could not be certain he had seen an account of the incident in the military report and that it might have been in other investigative documents or drafts.
Afghans were unconvinced.
"It's not acceptable now that the magazine says it's made a mistake," said Hafizullah Torab, 42, a writer and journalist in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, where the protests began last Tuesday. "No one will accept it."
"Possibly, the American government put pressure on the magazine to issue the retraction to avoid the anger of Muslims," said Sayed Elyas Sedaqat, who heads a cultural group in the city.
In neighboring Pakistan, a religious party said it was going ahead with a call for protests on May 27.
"Newsweek is back-tracking but it's not just their report," said Ghaffar Aziz, a top official of the Jamaat-e-Islami party. "All innocent people released from U.S. custody have said on the record that there was desecration of the Koran.
A spokesman for the Taliban, who denied any involvement in last week's Afghan protests, said the original report was true. "Newsweek is changing its story because of pressure from the U.S. government," Abdul Latif Hakimi said by telephone.
In Kabul, a U.S. military spokesman told a news briefing the Newsweek retraction had no bearing on the U.S. position.
"Any disrespect to the Koran and any other religion is not tolerated by our culture and our values," said Colonel Jim Yonts.
Kabul University student Abdul Khaliq said Newsweek should be held accountable. "If this was a mistake by Newsweek it should be banned," he said.
At the weekend, President Hamid Karzai urged Washington to punish anyone found guilty of desecration. The government had no immediate comment on the Newsweek clarification.
In Pakistan, where a November edition of Newsweek was banned for publishing a photograph of a woman's body painted with inscriptions from the Koran, the government last week expressed deep concern about the Guantanamo report and said perpetrators of the reported desecration should be held accountable.
Reporting by Qurban Ali Hamzi in BADAKHSHAN, Dawood Wafa in JALALABAD, Saeed Ali Achakzai in SPIN BOLDAK, Tahir Ikram in ISLAMABAD, Robert Birsel in KABUL
© Reuters 2005