March 25, 2012 in Nation/World

Soldier held in killings split attacks, officials say

He shot up village, returned to base, went to another
Robert Burns Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

An Afghan boy prays Saturday over the grave of one of the victims killed in a shooting rampage attributed to a U.S. soldier.
(Full-size photo)

WASHINGTON – U.S. investigators believe the U.S. soldier accused of killing 17 Afghan civilians split the slaughter into two episodes, returning to his base after the first attack and later slipping away to kill again, two American officials said Saturday.

This scenario seems to support the U.S. government’s assertion – contested by some Afghans – that the killings were done by one person, since they would have been perpetrated over a longer period of time than assumed when Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales was detained March 11 outside his base in southern Afghanistan.

But it also raises new questions about how Bales, who was formally charged Friday with 17 counts of premeditated murder and other crimes, could have carried out the nighttime attacks without drawing attention from any Americans on the Kandahar province base.

Many details about the killings, including a possible motive, have not been made public. The documents released by the U.S. military Friday in connection with the murder charges do not include a timeline or a narrative of what is alleged to have happened.

Bales, 38, is accused of killing nine Afghan children and eight adults. The bodies were found in Balandi and Alkozai villages – one north and one south of the base, in Kandahar’s Panjwai district.

Bales also was charged with six counts of attempted murder and six counts of assault in the same case.

U.S. investigators now believe that Bales walked off his base that night and killed several people in one of the villages, then went back to the base. The American officials, who are privy to some details of the investigation, said they do not know why Bales returned, how long he stayed or what he did while there.

He then slipped off the base a second time and killed civilians in the second village before again heading back toward the base. It was while he was returning the second time that a U.S. military search party spotted him. He is reported to have surrendered without a struggle.

Bales is being held in a military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

There have been previous suggestions that Bales could have returned to base after the first set of shootings, but the American officials who spoke to the Associated Press on Saturday provided the first official disclosure that U.S. investigators have come to this conclusion.

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