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Afghan targeted Marines assembled to meet Panetta: official

world Updated: Mar 15, 2012 12:54 IST

An Afghan interpreter driving a hijacked truck targeted US Marines assembled to greet defense secretary Leon Panetta at a military airfield, a military official said on Thursday.

The marines he tried to run over "were assembled to meet the secretary of defense's plane," the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters in Kabul of Wednesday's incident.

A British soldier was injured "in the course of the theft" of the vehicle at the huge Camp Bastion military base in Helmand province shared by British, US and other allied troops, he said.

The Afghan interpreter, who was engulfed in flames after crashing the vehicle, had a container of fuel in the car. He died of his burns on Thursday, General Mike Scaparotti told reporters.

There were no explosives in the vehicle and "the person had no explosive vest on him, Scaparotti said, adding "he passed away in medical care this morning."

The Afghan "contract employee" hijacked the pick-up truck at the base at about the same time Panetta's aircraft was landing.

He drove the vehicle at high speed before he crashed into a ditch and emerged in flames, Panetta's spokesman George Little told reporters.

Panetta travelled to Afghanistan just days after a US soldier shot dead 16 villagers -- most of them women and children -- in southern Kandahar province in the worst single such incident since the 2001 US-led invasion.

The suspect in the massacre, a US Army sergeant who had served three tours in Iraq, had been flown out of Afghanistan, Pentagon officials said Wednesday, with military sources saying he was now in Kuwait.

Panetta was due to meet President Hamid Karzai in Kabul later on Thursday in an attempt to shore up relations hurt by a series of incidents, including the massacre and the burning of Korans at a US military base last month.