KABUL, Afghanistan, March 15, 2012 — The suspect in yesterday’s car theft and possible attack at Bastion Airfield in Afghanistan’s Helmand province died this morning while under medical care, the commander of International Security Assistance Force Joint Command said here today.
The incident took place around the time Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta’s plane landed at the airfield for his first stop on his two-day visit to Afghanistan.
In a meeting with reporters traveling with the secretary, Army Lt. Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti said the suspect was an Afghan interpreter working under contract for coalition forces. While the general did not give a specific cause of death, he said the man had suffered extensive burns.
Defense Department spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby said yesterday in Washington that the man was injured yesterday after allegedly stealing a small pickup truck from its driver and driving it onto an aircraft parking area. NATO officials confirmed that the driver from whom the vehicle was stolen, a British soldier, was injured during the theft, but did not report his condition.
The suspect apparently attempted to hit a group of Marines lined up on the ramp, Scaparrotti said, but overshot the group by about 100 yards and drove the vehicle into a ditch. A U.S. military official confirmed the Marines were at the airfield to greet Panetta as he arrived.
The general said as witnesses described the scene to him later, they then saw a puff of smoke, and the suspect came out of the vehicle engulfed in flames. The suspect may have accidentally set fire to himself while trying to burn the truck, the general said, noting that investigators found containers in the vehicle that may have held fuel.
Scaparrotti said that while he doesn’t know the suspect’s intent or motivation, “I personally don’t believe it had any connection with the secretary’s arrival. I think he had an intent to harm. I think he tried to hit people on the ramp.”
A senior Defense Department official said a military working dog may have been involved in apprehending the suspect by pulling him from the vehicle, though that is not confirmed. The dog suffered slight burns, the official added.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)