Judge grants request for high court hearing to establish how four males, aged 12-18, died during search for Taliban commander
A British soldier is under investigation for murder after four Afghans aged 12 to 18 were shot dead at close range in the head and neck in a family home, it has emerged.
The high court heard on Tuesday that the soldier, whose identity or unit has yet to be disclosed, has been accused of shooting three of them. The fourth was shot by another soldier who is understood to be an Afghan.
A high court judge said the allegations were “very, very grave”.
Mr Justice Holman said:”If a trained soldier shoots not one but three people at close range in the area of the head and neck, it erases the question … of whether he was deliberately shooting to kill.”
He granted a request from the relatives of the dead – who were all male and aged 12, 14, 16 and 18 – for a full high court hearing to establish how they died.
Lawyers for the Ministry of Defence say that the four Afghans were suspected Taliban insurgents – a claim rejected by their relatives. The lawyers say the soldiers fired in self-defence as the four were equipped with weapons – another claim disputed by relatives.
The claims revolve around an incident on 18 October in a village in Helmand province, which was reported in the Guardian in December.
According to the MoD, a team of British and Afghan soldiers were sent to capture an “active” Taliban commander who had been planning bombings against the US-led coalition. It followed a “reliable” intelligence tipoff, says the MoD.
Shaheed Fatima, barrister for a relative of two of the dead, told the court that the heavily equipped soldiers, accompanied by tanks, entered the Loi Bagh village at 8pm looking for the individual they suspected of being a Taliban commander.
She said they went into one house where the four young Afghans were shot and killed, and that after the soldiers left, neighbours entered the house “where they found the bodies lying in a line with their heads towards the doorway”.
Fatima added: “The bodies had evidently been dragged into this position. It was clear from the bullet holes and the human tissue on the wall that the four had been shot in the head and neck region as they sat leaning against the wall.”
The younger two were schoolboys who were visiting for the night, while the older two worked as a shopkeeper and a farmer, she said.
The judge granted a request for the family members and witnesses to remain anonymous during the case as they feared reprisals from the Taliban. He ruled that only the first names of the dead can be published : Fazel, 18, Naik, 16, Mohammed, 14, and Ahmed, 12.
The court heard that the MoD did not launch an investigation into the deaths for six weeks and only did so after Tessa Gregory, a lawyer for a relative of two of the dead, notified the ministry that she was preparing to take legal action for damages.
The British soldier has been interviewed under caution by detectives from the Royal Military police.