Seven Royal Marines have been arrested on suspicion of murder while serving in Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence revealed last night.
They are to be questioned about a suspected breach of the military's Rules of Engagement during contact with an insurgent.
The allegation is that the insurgent was murdered by the troops last year but details of how the Rules of Engagement came to be broken remained unclear. No civilians were involved but military personnel are bound by strict rules on when they can and can't fire at an enemy. A senior defence source, however, said last night that it is alleged that the victim was not posing a threat and that he may have been unarmed at the time he was killed.
The arrests were made by the Royal Military Police and the investigation will be carried out under the terms of the Service Justice System which regulates how British standards of law are applied to military personnel serving abroad. It is the first time servicemen have been arrested on suspicion of such offences during the conflict.
An internal review by the military will also be carried out, as is normal practice for when "any serious incident of this nature" takes place. The review will try to identify what went wrong and how such problems can be avoided. A MoD spokesman said: "The Royal Military Police have today arrested seven Royal Marines on suspicion of murder. The arrests relate to an incident in Afghanistan in 2011. The incident followed an engagement with an insurgent; there were no civilians involved.
"The investigation will now be taken forward and dealt with by the Service Justice system. These arrests demonstrate the Department and the Armed Forces' determination to ensure UK personnel act in accordance with their Rules of Engagement and our standards. It would be inappropriate to make any further comment while the investigation is under way."
The MoD said of the internal review that will take place: "As with any serious incident of this nature, there will be an internal review to identify lessons learned. The nature of that review will reflect the developments in and, in due course, the outcome of the investigation."
In a separate case, a Territorial Army soldier, Fusilier Duane Knott, was investigated on suspicion of murder for killing a suspected Taliban insurgent. He believed that the Afghan was planting explosives but it later emerged he could have been a farmer. Earlier this year it was decided he should not face charges when the Service Prosecuting Authority concluded that there was no "realistic prospect of a conviction".