Afghan-massacre suspect Staff Sgt. Robert Bales en route to U.S.

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 16, 2012 

KABUL, Afghanistan — Despite claims by Afghan President Hamid Karzai that one man couldn't have killed 16 villagers, American military officials insisted Friday that Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who was being brought to a military prison in the United States, is the only suspect in a deadly rampage in southern Afghanistan.

"We have no one else (other) than one suspect in this case," said Navy Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman.

The U.S. military had refused to identify the suspect, who was taken into custody Sunday immediately after the shootings, before Friday. CNN first reported his name.

Bales was widely reported to be headed to the maximum-security prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., a frequent destination for suspects in high-profile military cases. Kirby wouldn't confirm the site, citing the potential for attacks.

Karzai's comments underscored the suspicion and anger that the shootings in the southern province of Kandahar have raised in Afghanistan. Two days after the suspect was transferred out of the country, angering many people here, Karzai met with relatives of the 16 villagers — reportedly including nine children — who were shot or stabbed.

The killings — coupled with the burning of copies of the Quran by U.S. personnel at an air base north of Kabul — have caused Afghan-U.S. relations to plummet to an arguably all-time low. Karzai called Thursday for withdrawing international forces from rural areas of the country and for the foreign forces to transfer security responsibilities to Afghan soldiers and police by next year.

In an emotional meeting Friday, Karzai pointed to a relative of one of the victims and said, "In his family ... children and women were killed, and then they were all brought together in one room and then set on fire. That, one man cannot do."

One man, Baran, whose brother Mohammad Dawoud, 55, was killed in Najiban village, told a McClatchy reporter earlier this week that witnesses — including Dawoud's wife — reported that numerous soldiers had invaded their house.

"They are saying there were almost 30 American soldiers in the home," said Baren, who like many Afghans uses only one name.

On Friday, Karzai expressed concern about what he described as a lack of U.S. cooperation with the Afghan investigation into the shootings, and said he'd "very loudly" raise unanswered questions about the incident with the U.S. military.

The American military's position on the rampage remains unchanged: Bales, who has yet to be charged, allegedly walked out of his outpost Sunday after midnight, and when he returned, he claimed responsibility for the deaths and then asked for a lawyer and stopped cooperating in the investigation.

Yet the dearth of information provided by the military — it took nearly a week to identify the suspect in a murder case that may be horrific but also seems relatively straightforward — has fed the fears and theories of Afghans, from villagers to the president.

U.S. military officials defended their decision to withhold information — despite the fact that the suspect had the military equivalent of a preliminary hearing Thursday — saying that the investigation was ongoing.

(Stephenson is a McClatchy special correspondent. Schofield reported from Washington. Marisa Taylor contributed to this article from Washington.)

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For more coverage visit McClatchy's Afghanistan and Pakistan page.

McClatchy Newspapers 2012

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