As thousands gathered Sunday to bury a woman who was beaten and burned by an angry mob, Afghan officials said they had found no proof that she had burned pages of the Koran as her assailants had claimed.
“We have reviewed all the evidence and have been unable to find any single iota of evidence to support claims that she had burned a Koran,” Gen. Mohammad Zahir, head of the Interior Ministry’s criminal investigation directorate, said at the woman’s funeral.
“She is completely innocent.”
Zahir’s comments followed the results of an investigation by the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs that said that charred papers found at the shrine where she was attacked Thursday were from a Persian-language prayer book -- not the Koran, the Muslim scripture, which is written in Arabic.
The death of the 28-year-old woman, identified only by her first name, Farkhunda, has sent shock waves across Afghanistan. In a rare sight, Farkhunda’s casket was carried to the grave site in north Kabul’s Khair Khana neighborhood by a dozen women, including some women's rights activists, with men escorting them.
The public outpouring of grief in many ways seemed a reversal of the events that led to her death.
After police were criticized for not doing enough to control the mob of several hundred men who surrounded Farkhunda at the Shah-Do Shamshira shrine in Kabul last week, police officers accompanied the procession from the family’s home to the cemetery. Young men and women took smartphone pictures of the ceremony and broadcast them on social media.
Many in Afghanistan and overseas were aghast to learn that hundreds more people gathered along the banks of the Kabul River to take pictures and videos of Farkhunda’s burning body, which was left in a dirt patch of the shallow river.
When Farkhunda’s body was taken from her family’s house to the funeral, young men cried out, “Allahu Akbar!” -- God is great – the same words her attackers used before beating her and running her body over with a car before setting it on fire.
Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said 13 police officials had been suspended. Thirteen suspects in the crime have been arrested, officials said.
The mullah of the shrine, whom Farkhunda’s family has accused of burning the pages, has also been taken into custody, officials said.
Mourners at the funeral also demanded that another religious leader, who praised the attackers during a Friday sermon, be removed from his post at a mosque.
Farkhunda’s relatives, who said she suffered from mental illness, described their daughter as a devout Muslim who graduated from a local religious school and was preparing to begin classes in the Islamic Studies department of Kabul University. Her parents said in an interview that they wanted only that the killers be brought to justice.
Demonstrators were planning to gather this week in Kabul to call for justice and for a local landmark to be named after Farkhunda.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who has condemned the incident, arrived in Washington on Sunday for meetings with President Obama and senior administration officials.
Speaking before his arrival, Ghani, who has called for the Obama administration to delay the withdrawal of the 9,800 U.S. troops remaining in Afghanistan, said the two countries had common security concerns, including the rise of the Islamic State militant organization, which Ghani’s government says has established a beachhead in Afghanistan.
“The threats that we are facing on a daily basis -- were they, God forbid, to overwhelm us -- will threaten the world at large,” Ghani said on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS.” “The experience of Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya are now examples to draw on.”
Special correspondent Latifi reported from Kabul and Times staff writer Bengali from Mumbai, India.
Follow @SBengali for news from South Asia