Revealed: the Afghan soldier who murdered his British comrades

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The Independent Online

The Afghan soldier who killed three members of British forces inside their patrol base last month is said to have contacted his family to express his remorse at causing them distress.

Talib Hussein, a Shia from from the country's Hazara minority, also expressed unease at being with the overwhelmingly Sunni Pashtun Taliban, according to Afghan security sources. The Independent is today the first to publish a photograph of 20-year-old Hussein, who murdered the soldiers from 1st Battalion, The Royal Gurkha Rifles, in Helmand.

Hussein, who joined the Afghan army last year, carried out the attack while on night-guard duty at PB (Patrol Base) 3 at Nahr-e-Saraj. Lieutenant Neal Turkington and Corporal Arjun Purja died when a rocket-propelled grenade was fired into the control room of the base. Major James Joshua Bowman, the company commander, was killed in the tent where he had slept.

The deadly assault followed the killings of five UK servicemen last year at another base, Blue 25, near Nad-e-Ali in Helmand, and it raised questions about the training of Afghan forces to take over security, a key plank of the West's exit strategy from the conflict. The attack also took place just hours after the first Afghan-led operation in the war, codenamed Omid Du, which cleared a Taliban-held enclave.

Hussein has twice contacted his family in Ghazni province by telephone and maintained he would meet them again, Afghan officials said. He also allegedly expressed his trepidation of being with the Taliban. His family are deeply upset by Hussein's killings and had told Afghan security officials they would urge him to give himself up if the opportunity arose.

The Hazaras suffered brutality in the hands of Mullah Omar's Taliban regime and senior community leaders have expressed concern at the attempts of the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, to broker a deal with the Taliban. There was, thus, shock that one of their own had carried out the killings.

"We don't know why he did it, but Hazaras should remember the massacres by the Taliban in Bamiyan," said Abbas Noyan, a Hazara member of the Afghan parliament. "Hazaras should remember the Taliban killing of Hazaras after the capture of Mazar-e-Sharif."

The Taliban's claim that Hussein had been a long-term "sleeper" activated to carry out the killings has not been backed by evidence. He had spent two years in Iran before joining the army, and Afghan and British investigators have been examining whether he formed links with hardline Islamist groups during that time. There is nothing to suggest that he had links with the government in Tehran.

Hussein gained a reputation among his British trainers for being reliable, leading to rapid promotion to the rank of sergeant. A few days after the killings, a man claiming to be the soldier contacted several news outlets to say that he had carried out the attack because British forces were "misbehaving with our sisters and mothers; they were killing innocent people – our brothers".

Hussein said that after his attack on 13 July, he ran to a known Taliban area where "they took me, confirmed that I did it and then they welcomed me".