UN says Afghan ‘friendly fire’ may have killed UN employee during Taliban attack in October

By Edith M. Lederer, AP
Friday, April 16, 2010

Afghan ‘friendly fire’ may have killed UN employee

UNITED NATIONS — “Friendly fire” from Afghan security forces may have killed a U.N. employee during a Taliban attack in October on a guest house filled with U.N. staff, the United Nations said Friday.

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said the preliminary conclusions of an investigation by the U.N. mission in Afghanistan raised “the disturbing possibility” that a U.N. staff member, who was not identified, died from “friendly fire.”

Five U.N. staff members and three Afghans were killed in the attack.

Germany’s Stern magazine reported on its Web site Friday that it obtained amateur video indicating that American U.N. security guard Louis Maxwell, of Miami, was killed after he escaped from the guest house — not from a terrorist bullet or explosives as the Afghan government had claimed.

A high-level board of inquiry established in January is expected to submit a final report on the attack soon, Nesirky said.

Nesirky said the inquiry’s findings will be shared with the Afghan government, “and if warranted we will ask for a thorough investigation surrounding the death of this U.N. employee and the circumstances of the deaths of the other U.N. employees.”

Stern reported that the video shows Maxwell pulling himself up from all fours on a Humvee, and standing among Afghan police. A single shot strikes Maxwell, who falls to the ground dead, it said. Three more shots come seconds later, and then the police officer next to Maxwell’s corpse takes his weapon from the ground and runs away with it, it said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanded to know immediately after the Oct. 28 attack why it took an hour for Afghan police and NATO troops to respond to repeated calls for help. Afghan authorities denied that they were slow to respond, and NATO said the Afghans did not ask the international force for support.

Ban said at the time that two Afghan security guards outside the house where 34 U.N. staffers lived appear to have been killed immediately in the assault, which apparently targeted the U.N. for its role in the Nov. 7 presidential runoff election. The Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the attack, viewed the balloting as a Western plot.

After the Afghan guards were killed, Ban said, two U.N. security officers living in the guest house took up the job of protecting their fellow U.N. staff members, fighting through the corridors and from the rooftop.

“They held off the attackers long enough for their colleagues to escape, armed only with pistols against assailants carrying automatic weapons and grenades and wearing suicide vests,” the secretary-general said.

The two security officers — Maxwell and Laurance Mefful of Ghana — both died in the attack.

Maxwell’s mother, Sandra Maxwell, told The Associated Press after his death that top U.N. officials told her “that because of my son, 17 people are alive.”

“He was brave. He fought until he couldn’t fight anymore. He paid the ultimate price. He was a hero,” she said in October.

Associated Press Writer Matt Surman contributed to this report from London.

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