KABUL  - Afghanistan’s top religious council Friday demanded that those responsible for the burning of Qurans at a US military base should be put on public trial. The Ulema Council “insists that such a devilish act is not forgivable by apologies and that the perpetrators of this crime should soon be publicly tried and punished”, a statement from President Hamid Karzai’s office said. “The council strongly condemns the heinous, inhumane, barbaric act of disrespecting the Quran and other religious books by American forces in Bagram base.”

The council of religious scholars is funded by the government and issued the statement after a meeting with President Hamid Karzai.

It reiterated the president’s calls for the handover of the US-run prison at Bagram to Afghan control and an end to night raids, saying “the foreigners have so far not positively responded to these righteous demands”.

Night raids, in which US-led special forces target suspected Taliban insurgent leaders, have been condemned as a violation of the privacy Afghan women and children in their own homes.

The Qurans sent to an incinerator pit at the Bagram base north of Kabul had reportedly been seized from prisoners — in what is known as Afghanistan’s Guantanamo Bay — who were suspected of using them to pass messages.

The incident ignited days of violent anti-US protests in which some 40 people died, plunging relations between foreign forces and their Afghan allies to an all time low and leading US President Barack Obama to apologise.

But there have been no fresh demonstrations since Sunday, and some analysts suspect Karzai is trying to keep the issue alive as a bargaining chip in his relations with Washington.

“I believe Hamid Karzai is using this council to pressure Americans to give in to his demands of a bigger role in peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar as well as other demands,” Afghan author and analyst Ahmad Saeedi told AFP.

Karzai was widely reported to have felt sidelined by Washington’s tentative contacts with the Taliban, who have led a 10-year insurgency against the government.

Earlier Friday, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle attacked a NATO convoy in the Dand district of Kandahar province, wounding seven people including four soldiers identified by district governor Hamdullah Nazek as Americans.

The attack bore the hallmarks of Taliban insurgents, who on Monday targeted NATO troops in a suicide car bombing at an airport in eastern Afghanistan, killing nine people but no foreign soldiers.

The US-led NATO force has 130,000 troops fighting the Taliban, which was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

But the only NATO soldiers reported killed in Afghanistan in the 10 days since the demonstrations erupted have died at the hands of Afghan colleagues, sparking calls for Western troops to pull out ahead of their deadline of 2014.

Two Americans were killed at a military outpost in Kandahar Thursday, taking the number of Americans killed by Afghan associates to six since outbreak of the protests.

NATO withdrew all its advisors from Afghan government ministries after two American officers were shot and killed inside the interior ministry last Saturday, apparently by an Afghan colleague.

Of the 60 NATO troops killed so far this year 18 percent — almost one in five — have died at the hands of Afghan colleagues, including four French and an Albanian, as well as the six Americans.