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Review finds no evidence of threat to Panetta, others in suicide attack

The Afghan interpreter who tried to ram a stolen vehicle into U.S. and British officers awaiting Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta's plane at a British base in southern Afghanistan last month apparently set himself on fire, British investigators concluded.

The evidence indicates that the interpreter, who died of burns the next day before investigators had a chance to question him, set fire to himself with a lighter and a can of fuel found in the vehicle, according to an official of the U.S.-led coalition who is familiar with the case and spoke on condition of anonymity. The official declined to identify the interpreter.

British military and coalition officials have ended their preliminary review of the March 14 incident after determining there wasn't enough evidence of an intended threat to Panetta or other specific targets to merit a formal inquiry, the official said.

The interpreter had worked at the British base, Camp Bastion, for about two years, and co-workers told investigators he had been upset that morning, the official said. Investigators weren't able to determine from co-workers or the interpreter's family what might have upset him or motivated his rampage.

The interpreter stole the British military vehicle and began driving around the base at high speed, first hitting and slightly injuring a British service member and later aiming for a welcoming party for Panetta that included U.S. Marine Maj. Gen. Charles Gurganus, the new coalition commander in southern Afghanistan, and his British deputy, Brig. Stuart Skeates. The Toyota Hi-Lux truck ran into a ditch at the runway ramp, and the driver jumped out in flames.

A summary of the review's findings also corrects some information originally provided to reporters traveling with Panetta, who weren't told of the incident for more than 10 hours. Panetta's plane was rerouted to another part of the runway, and he proceeded with his planned schedule of troop events and other meetings at the neighboring U.S. Marine base, Camp Leatherneck.

A U.S. defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity that week said three other interpreters, including the driver's brother and father, had been detained for questioning.

No family members of the driver were among the co-workers held for questioning, the first official said. Those detained for questioning have been released, and no one has been disciplined in the case, the official said.

While reports at the time indicated that Panetta may have been the target, the British review found no evidence the driver had targeted the defense secretary or any other officials.