How the official story of Linda Norgrove's death unravelled

Kim Sengupta on the footage that gave the lie to initial accounts of how the activist died.

The kidnapping of Linda Norgrove was seen as yet another deeply worrying example of the unravelling security in many parts of Afghanistan and the rising vulnerability faced by foreigners travelling in the country.

It was not the first such abduction, and there seemed to be nothing to suggest that the 36-year-old aid worker's life was in imminent danger. She had been seized in a particularly lawless region but other abductions there had been resolved following negotiations, sometimes with the payment of ransoms. And there was little publicity about the case – details were not made public while attempts were being made to free her.

International aid workers in Afghanistan had been increasingly concerned about their safety and the murders of a group of doctors in the north of the country, including the British doctor Karen Woo two months ago, have added to the sense of foreboding. However, the fact that Ms Norgrove had not been immediately executed was seen as a source of hope that she would, at some stage, be freed. Well versed in Afghan culture, and a fluent speaker of Dari who was also learning Pashto, she was regarded by colleagues as more capable of surviving than most.

That is how matters remained until the news, at the weekend, that Ms Norgrove was killed during an attempt to rescue her by American special forces, supposedly blown up by one of her captors wearing a suicide vest.

US and British authorities stated that they had no choice but to mount the military operation as the hostage was about to be taken across the border to be delivered to al-Qa'ida in Pakistan. But that account disintegrated yesterday with David Cameron having to announce that Ms Norgrove may have been killed by US troops throwing a grenade.Ms Norgrove, who worked for an American development agency, was travelling with Afghan companions in Kunar to visit an irrigation project on 26 September when they were stopped by armed men in the uniform of the Afghan army and taken away. Her bodyguards chased after the men and there was a brief fire fight, but they failed to secure her release.

US forces in Kunar carried out a series of operations to find her and to block off possible escape routes for the kidnap gang. There were leaflet drops from the air and offers of rewards to villagers in return for information about her whereabouts.

There are directly contradictory accounts of what, in the meantime, was going on behind the scenes. The Foreign Secretary William Hague said yesterday that "from the start" the British government was gravely concerned that Ms Norgrove had been taken by a vicious Salafist group who would pass her on up the terrorist chain of command. But Afghan officials claimed that they were in the process of obtaining her release through a group of local elders when the raid took place. Others maintained that the abductors were not hardcore Taliban but a criminal gang which was seeking a substantial ransom and had let this be known to British diplomats.

Ms Norgrove was being moved about, with the US forces attempting to keep track of her through electronic surveillance as well as material they were receiving from the Afghan intelligence service. General David Petraeus, the American commander of Nato forces, advised the British government that an operation needed to be launched to free the hostage. Cobra, the Cabinet's crisis management committee, gave the go-ahead. Within hours of the failed mission, officials were saying that Ms Norgrove had died in a suicide blast. But then the commander of the Special Operations troop who had carried out the raid saw something in the video footage taken by helmet cameras of soldiers which made him immediately alert Gen Petraeus.

Captain Gary Kirchner, at Nato headquarters, said: "He discovered what looked to him like someone throwing a hand grenade into the area where Ms Norgrove was being held. The bottom line is that when the commander saw that he knew that there were some discrepancies and immediately wanted to make sure that we did the right thing."

Currently the plan is for the US military's Central Command in Tampa, Florida, to hold the investigation.

Ms Norgrove's family want a full explanation of what went wrong and may well want an independent element to the investigation. David Cameron too, publicly placed in a highly embarrassing position through false information, will want to be reassured that the next version he is given is an accurate one.

The other rescues that went wrong

* A dawn raid by British special forces to rescue The New York Times reporter Stephen Farrell, 46, and his Afghan colleague Sultan Munadi, 34, ended with the death of Mr Munadi and Cpl John Harrison, 29. Mr Farrell and Mr Munadi were kidnapped by the Taliban in September last year after travelling to Kunduz to investigate the site of an air strike on two hijacked fuel tankers.

* A chaotic police rescue, which ended in the deaths of eight people taken hostage on a bus in the Philippines, was watched live by millions on television in August. Seven more people were injured. The former police inspector Rolando Mendoza, 55, who was dismissed on robbery and extortion charges, had seized the bus in Manila.

* Florent Lemacon was killed in a shoot-out between French special forces and Somali pirates in April last year after a controversial attempt to recover his hijacked yacht in the Indian Ocean.

* A Russian operation to rescue 800 people taken hostage in a Moscow theatre by Chechen rebels in October 2002 led to the death of 117 as well as around 50 rebels. Most of those killed were said to have been poisoned by gas pumped into the building by Russian troops.

* Attempts by UK and US special forces to rescue IT consultant Peter Moore and his four security guards failed to reach them in time. The five men were kidnapped in Baghdad in May 2007. Mr Moore, 36, was eventually released but three of the guards – Jason Swindlehurst, 38, Jason Creswell, 39, and Alec MacLachlan, 30 – were shot dead. It is believed the fourth, Alan McMenemy, 34, met the same fate.

Timeline of events

Linda Norgrove abducted after an ambush in Kunar province two weeks ago.

She is taken towards the Pakistani border, her movement and those of her abductors tracked electronically.

Cobra, the government's crisis management committee, meets in London. From Kabul, General David Petraeus, the US commander of Nato forces, advises that a rescue attempt must be carried out because of the danger of Ms Norgrove being spirited across the border into Pakistan.

A team of US special forces, on foot and helicopters, storm a compound surrounded by high walls, 7,000 feet up a hillside in the village of Dineshgal in Kunar. There is a prolonged firefight during which grenades are thrown by US forces. Seven insurgents are killed, Ms Norgrove is injured. She is given emergency medical treatment and evacuated by a helicopter, but dies from her injuries.

Club legend Paul Scholes is scared United could disappear into 'the wilderness'
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home