Aircraft filmed grenade thrown in hostage rescue

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The Independent Online

US authorities had in their possession two separate sets of evidence indicating that the hostage Linda Norgrove may have been killed by American troops rather than by her kidnappers.

The official version initially given, that her death was due to a suicide vest, was called into doubt not just by film from troops’ helmet cameras, but a second set of footage taken from an aircraft overhead.

Both revealed a soldier throwing a grenade towards the corner of a building where the 36-year-old aid worker was being held.

It has also emerged Ms Norgrove was still alive when the soldiers got to her – an unlikely scenario if, as was being claimed, she had been right next to an exploding bomb.

There are now growing doubts that a suicide vest even existed at the scene. Nato officials yesterday admitted that it had been a major mistake to state so categorically that the Briton had been murdered by one of her abductors detonating a suicide vest.

“The first reports from an operation are invariably confused and sometimes downright wrong,” said an official. “Nothing so definite should have been put out. What we do know is that there was an explosion and the inquiry will show whether this was caused by a grenade or some other device, or that some other device was triggered by the grenade.”

Ms Norgrove was killed in the early hours of Saturday morning, Afghan time, when the mission to free her went disastrously wrong. A few hours later William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, was saying in London that she had been killed by her captors. This was repeated by a variety of American, British and other Nato officials in London, Washington and Kabul until David Cameron announced at a news conference on Monday morning that she may in fact have been killed by an American throwing a grenade.

American personnel in Kabul insist, however, that General David Petraeus, the US commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, alerted David Cameron as soon as it became clear Ms Norgrove that may have been the victim of ‘friendly fire’. The footage from both “head-cams” and aircraft, they said, had taken time to examine properly.

British and American military sources also reiterated their belief that Ms Norgrove was going to be taken across the border by her kidnappers into the terrorist havens of Pakistan where it would have been impossible to mount a rescue operation.

PLS KEEP The Independent has learnt that Ms Norgrove had been taken to the home of Mullah Kiftan, a mid-level commander whose fighters had close links with the Taliban as well as being involved in widespread criminal activity. The property was less than 25 miles from the border and although the aid worker may have been freed in the future for a ransom, say military sources, the negotiations would have taken place from inside Pakistan.

Some US officials have been dismayed by the level of criticism in the UK of their efforts to free Ms Norgrove and assertions that British special forces would have been successful if they had been in charge of the operation. They pointed out that a UK-led mission to rescue journalist Stephen Farrell ended in the death of his fellow hostage Sultan Munadi, a number of other civilians and a British soldier.

A senior British officer said yesterday: “It was the right decision to let the Americans carry out the operation. It was their there area of operation and they knew the ground well. It is also the fact that our chaps were terribly busy and moving them hundreds of miles [from Helmand] would have been problematic and would have also wasted time. It wasn’t as if the Americans demanded that they do it, it is something we were content to let them do.”

Military sources yesterday described the difficulties involved in mounting a rescue operation 7,500 feet high up on a hillside ledge . The raid was timed for a moonless night in an effort to gain the maximum element of surprise and the US special forces team abseiled down outside Mullah Kiftan’s compound before blowing down a front wall to gain entry. An intense firefight ensued during which one of the soldiers lobbed in the fragmentation grenade which may have killed Ms Norgrove. Nine bodies were found at the site, Mullah Kiftan is not thought to have been among them.