Suspect in Afghanistan Airfield Incident Dies

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)