- By BBC
In the pre-dawn hours of Sunday, a US soldier stationed at a base in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province allegedly launched a single-handed gun attack on nearby Afghan villagers.
He is said to have broken into homes in two villages, Alkozai and Najeeban, both located about 500m (yds) from the base in Panjwai district.
By the end of the attack, 16 people, nine of them children, were dead and five wounded. Some of the bodies had been set on fire.
The unidentified soldier, believed to be a staff sergeant, later returned to his base, where he was put under arrest.
Shots in the night
The Afghan provincial authorities say the rogue soldier walked off his base around 03:00 (22:30 GMT Saturday).
However, at least one eyewitness says the attacker struck an hour earlier.
Local resident Abdul Baqi told the Associated Press news agency he had heard gunfire in the night.
“When it was happening… we were inside our houses,” he said. “I heard gunshots and then silence and then gunshots again.”
Another resident, Abdul Samad, explained for BBC News that people in the area lived under a virtual curfew.
“We have been restricted by the government and Taliban not to move around during the night,” he said.
It had already been an unquiet night, he added. Around midnight, aircraft were heard overhead and, some time between 01:00 and 01:30, there came the sound of helicopters and gunfire.
A female eyewitness, who withheld her name in line with local custom, told BBC News she had heard gunshots at 02:00.
A barking dog, she said, was shot dead by the gunman.
‘Pretending to be dead’
While other witnesses heard shooting in the villages, there appear to be few witnesses who actually saw the attacker.
A boy of 15 or 16, named only as Rafiullah, is said to have recounted the attack to Afghan President Hamid Karzai by telephone.
Shot in the leg himself, he was quoted as saying an American soldier had entered his house in the middle of the night, woke up his family and begun firing on them.
Another eyewitness, 20-year-old Jan Agha, told Reuters he had been woken by gunfire along with his father, who peeped nervously outside through a curtain.
Suddenly more shots were fired and his father fell dead, hit in the throat and face. Also killed were Jan’s mother, brother and sister.
The young man said he had survived by lying on the floor, pretending to be dead.
He also believes that more than one US soldier entered his house.
“The Americans stayed in our house for a while,” he said. “I was very scared.”
As news of the massacre emerged on Sunday, reporters who visited the area talked to bereaved relatives.
Speaking through tears, a grandfather, Samad Khan, told Reuters news agency that 11 members of his family had been killed, including his children and grandchildren.
The farmer, who had been away from the village when the attack happened, said he believed that chemicals had been poured over the bodies and set alight.
Photographs show at least one child’s body partially charred, while a pile of ashes lay on the floor of a room in one of the houses with what appeared to be bloodstains close by.
Images of the bodies also suggest that at least some were killed by a single shot to the head.
One photograph shows the body of a small girl in a red and green dress, with a bullet hole in the middle of her temple.
A statement from Gen John R Allen, commander of the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (Isaf), confirmed that the “US service member” alleged to have launched the attacks was in custody.
It is believed that, some time before the killings, the soldier suffered a nervous breakdown.
Kandahar, regarded as the birthplace of the Taliban movement, has seen some of the heaviest fighting between international troops and insurgents in the past five years, and Panjwai has been at the heart of the conflict.
An Isaf spokesman, Brig Gen Carsten Jacobson, said: “All we know so far is he left the base.
“He returned to the base after the incident and was taken into custody straight away, and the investigation is ongoing, which will include what was the reasoning and what was the circumstances of his doings.”