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Soldier who killed aid worker in botched rescue is exonerated

Death of Linda Norgrove in Afghanistan as US special forces attempted to rescue her from insurgents happened when soldier threw grenade not knowing she was there, inquest hears.

LONDON // The US special forces soldier who threw the grenade that killed kidnapped aid worker Linda Norgrove in Afghanistan was exonerated by an inquest in Britain yesterday.

The coroner concluded that the soldier who took part in the rescue mission to free the 36-year-old Scot from her captors last October "genuinely feared for the safety of the lives of his colleagues and also himself, and had to make a critical decision in a fraction of a second".

Coroner David Ridley, delivering a narrative verdict at the end of the inquest in Wiltshire, added that the solider had been unaware of Norgrove's presence when he had thrown the grenade in the compound.

In the aftermath of the operation, US military spokesmen in Afghanistan suggested that Norgrove had been killed when one of her captors exploded a suicide vest.

Brigadier Robert Nitsch, a British officer who took part in the joint US-UK investigation into the botched rescue, told the inquest there had been no deliberate cover-up.

"The team leader, in a previous tour of Afghanistan, had witnessed an insurgent blowing himself up in front of him. In his mind, that is what has happened here," Brigadier Nitsch said.

"This was one of the contributing factors why it wasn't confirmed until later that Linda was killed by this grenade rather than by a suicide vest."

He said that the soldier who threw the grenade, killing Norgrove from fragmentation injuries within a minute of the start of the operation, had been "shattered" by her death.

Brigadier Nitsch said the soldier had been the most junior member of a group and although on hindsight his use of the grenade was "inadvisable", it was entirely understandable.

The soldier, identified only as TM5, was "thinking at a million miles a minute" and feared his comrades were in danger after they had landed from helicopters at night and in poor visibility on the Afghan mountainside.

Norgrove, who had been kidnapped as she and local aid workers drove through Kunar province in September, was led stumbling out of a building by one of her captors as the team approached along a terrace, the inquest heard.

"Linda was wearing dark clothing. There's no visibility and she's quite slight compared to the insurgent," Brigadier Nitsch said.

The insurgent was shot and fell down some steps; Norgrove fell to the floor. It was then that TM5 threw the grenade.

"One of the team members decides he feels significantly under threat and makes the decision to throw a grenade into the gap between the buildings," Brigadier Nitsch said.

The inquest was attended by Norgrove's parents, John and Lorna, who live on Lewis in Scotland's Outer Hebrides, her younger sister, Sofie Corns, 34, and 8-month-old nephew, Tom.

After the hearing, the family said in a statement: "What we have heard today at the inquest generally confirms the account given last year at the briefing we received following the joint US/UK military investigation.

"A series of chance events all going the wrong way and an error of judgment by one of the special forces resulted in our daughter's death.

"She was a lovely girl, had so much to offer and was such a force for good in the world. We miss her terribly. The whole affair is a tragedy."

dsapsted@thenational.ae