Fourteen-year-old Afghan is suspected of killing US soldier

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Tribal elders in Afghanistan suspect a 14-year-old boy of firing the weapon that killed Nathan Ross Chapman, the first American soldier to die under enemy fire since the war began, and say he has now vanished from his home near the eastern town of Khost.

Sources tapped by Reuters news agency in Miranshah, across the border in Pakistan, show discussions by elders in Khost on what to do with the boy were postponed after he went into hiding.

The 14-year-old was not named, and there was no word on his possible whereabouts.

Sergeant Chapman, a 31-year-old member of the US special forces, was killed in an ambush last Friday outside the town of Gardez, near Khost. He was part of a 25-member fact-finding mission in Paktia province verifying reports that American planes had hit civilian targets. A member of the Central Intelligence Agency and two Afghans were wounded in the same incident.

Reuters says the teenager was considered the most likely, but not the only, suspect in the killing. Four other men were also believed to have been involved in the ambush. Shahnawaz Tanai, a former Afghan army general now based in Pakistan, said: "I have heard of four men opening fire on the Americans and then fleeing.'' The identities of the four are shrouded in mystery.

Since the ambush, American military helicopters have brought several more army officials into the area, which was hit by air strikes last week in what Pentagon officials described as an assault on remaining members of Osama bin Laden's terrorist organisation. The new arrivals are believed to be searching for clues to the whereabouts of the elusive Mr bin Laden.