The chief Afghan investigator in last month's slayings of 17 civilians says there's strong evidence from two survivors that only one killer was involved, a view that puts him at odds with Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales has been charged with premeditated murder in the killings of eight adults and nine children from the villages of Najiban and Alkozai in the southern province of Kandahar, and six counts of attempted murder and assault. U.S. authorities have said they think that Bales acted alone, but the suspicion that more than one person was responsible for the shooting spree is widespread in Afghanistan.
Afghan's army chief, Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi, whom Karzai sent to Kandahar to investigate the massacre, told McClatchy Newspapers that two survivors he interviewed offered credible accounts that the killings were the act of a lone person. "They told me the same thing," he said. "They both said there was [only] one individual who came to their house."
The number of shooters in the March 11 attack has been a matter of rampant speculation in Afghanistan even though U.S. officials have said all along that Bales, who's in custody at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., is the only suspect. The "multiple attackers" claim, echoed by Karzai, played off public outrage over the killings and may have bolstered the Afghan president's standing at home, but it has caused confusion among his U.S. allies.
The dueling accounts also have raised questions about the viability of the U.S. military investigation of Bales, which is expected to rely on the testimony of villagers who are the only eyewitnesses. U.S. officials have said that some villagers will be taken to the United States to testify at Bales' military trial.
Reporters who covered the killings said that most accounts of multiple attackers came from Afghan villagers who were relaying information secondhand. Those reports were given credence by Karzai, who hasn't backed away from the claim.
Meanwhile, militants have stepped up their attacks against Afghan police, killing nine and abducting 11 across the nation in the past two days, authorities said Tuesday.
In one of the attacks, insurgents "poisoned the police" with food at a checkpoint in the Nahri Sarraj district of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, then attacked the police at the checkpoint late Monday, the governor's office said in a statement.
Four police officers were killed and two were wounded in the attack. The bodies of two civilians also were found at the checkpoint.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.