x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Accused soldier sent to army prison in US

The soldier's attorney said he had heard from a military lawyer that "another soldier at this base was brutally attacked the day before this incident and actually had his leg shot off right in front of my client".

WASHINGTON // The US sergeant accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians was on his way to an army base in Kansas yesterday and is expected to be tried by a military court, his lawyer, John Henry Browne, said.

The soldier, whose name has not been released, had been held in Kuwait after he was flown out of Afghanistan on Wednesday. He has been transferred to Fort Leavenworth, which has the US Defence Department's only maximum security prison.

Mr Browne told CNN he had spoken with his client yesterday, and in the short conversation the soldier "sounded distant and kind of like a deer in the headlights, but OK".

On Thursday, Mr Browne described his client as "an exemplary soldier" who was upset at having to serve a fourth tour of duty in a war zone and was probably suffering from stress after seeing colleagues wounded.

An unnamed US official had told The New York Times the killings were a result of "a combination of stress, alcohol and domestic issues - he just snapped".

Mr Browne said suggestions of marital problems were "totally bogus". He said his client has a "very strong marriage and frankly we're all taking offence at that".

Mr Browne said he had heard from a military lawyer that "another soldier at this base was brutally attacked the day before this incident and actually had his leg shot off right in front of my client".

Asked whether the massacre may have involved more than one soldier, Mr Browne said: "I don't have any information on that, one way or the other."

Five days after the killings, a portrait of the 38-year-old staff sergeant is beginning to emerge. He is married with two small children. He lost part of one foot because of injuries suffered in Iraq during one of his three tours of duty there.

Military officials have insisted from the beginning that it is usual procedure to keep his identity secret until he is officially charged.

The soldier had been moved from Afghanistan to Kuwait on Wednesday because, officials said, there was no appropriate detention facility to hold him in Afghanistan.

Mr Browne said the sergeant is originally from the Midwest but now lives near Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. His children are aged 3 and 4.

The sergeant's family said they had seen no sign of aggression or anger. "They were totally shocked," by accounts of the massacre, Mr Browne said. "He's never said anything antagonistic about Muslims. He's in general very mild-mannered."

Mr Browne declined to release the soldier's name. "Everybody is worried about the safety of his family, and I am honouring that."

His family had been moved on to the base to protect them,.

The soldier has been dispatched to Iraq three times since 2003, military officials say. During his time in Iraq, Mr Browne said, he was injured twice.

He suffered a concussion in a vehicle accident caused by an improvised explosive device, and sustained a battle-related injury requiring surgery that removed part of one foot. Mr Browne said his client was "highly decorated".

When he returned to the Seattle area, the staff sergeant at first thought he would not be required to join his unit when it shipped out for Afghanistan, the lawyer said. His family hoped he would be able to stay at home.

The staff sergeant arrived in Afghanistan in December. On February 1 he was assigned to a base in the Panjwai District, near Kandahar, to work with a village stability force that pairs special operations troops with villagers to help provide neighbourhood security.

On Saturday, the day before the shooting spree, Mr Browne said the soldier saw his friend's leg blown off. Mr Browne said his client's family provided him with that information, which has not been independently verified.

* Reuters with additional reporting by the Associated Press