NATO troops in Afghanistan have been placed on high alert after the Taliban militants vowed to avenge the deaths of 16 innocent civilians killed by a rogue U.S. soldier who opened fire in Kandahar province early Sunday morning.
US officials warned of reprisals after the soldier went on a rampage in villages near a base in Kandahar. Nine children were among those killed.
President Barack Obama phoned his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai to express condolences. But President Hamid Karzai has said the massacre is “unforgivable”.
US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has said a full investigation is under way.
The soldier, believed to be a staff sergeant, is reported to have walked off his base at around 03:00 a.m. on Sunday.
In the villages of Alkozai and Najeeban, about 500 m from the base, he reportedly broke into three homes.
At one house in Najeeban, 11 people were found shot dead, and some of their bodies set alight. At least three of the child victims are reported to have been killed by a single shot to the head.
The US military said reports indicated that the soldier returned to his base after the shootings and turned himself in. His motives are unclear – there is speculation that he might have been drunk or suffered a mental breakdown. But officers are worried that the attack might have been planned.
The soldier is being detained in Kandahar and the military is treating at least five people wounded in the attacks, officials said.
The detained soldier has not been identified, although US officials quoted by the Associated Press news agency said he was from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, 38 years old, married with two children, and had served three tours in Iraq and was on his first deployment in Afghanistan.
The killings come amid already high anti-US sentiment in Afghanistan following the burning of Korans at a NATO base in Kabul last month.
NATO troops in Afghanistan have been placed on high alert after 16 innocent civilians have been killed by a rogue US soldier
US officials have repeatedly apologized for the incident but they failed to quell a series of protests and attacks that killed at least 30 people and six US troops.
However, the latest incident has damaged already fragile relations between Kabul and Washington.
The Taliban is using the shooting as a propaganda victory, placing President Hamid Karzai in a difficult position.
Angry tribal elders are now demanding an immediate end to US night raids on Afghan homes.
Afghan MPs passed a strong resolution to condemn the killing and demanded an open trial on Afghan soil. However, Afghanistan has signed an agreement with NATO that foreign soldiers should be tried in their own countries.
The killings could further fuel calls for a more rapid withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, US personnel in Afghanistan were warned of possible reprisal attacks.
“The US Embassy in Kabul alerts US citizens in Afghanistan that as a result of a tragic shooting incident in Kandahar province involving a US service member, there is a risk of anti-American feelings and protests in coming days, especially in the eastern and southern provinces,” the embassy said in an emergency statement on its website.
The US embassy in Kabul is restricting the movements of staff in southern Afghanistan until at least 17:00 local time on Monday.
In a statement released by the White House on Sunday, President Obama said: “This incident is tragic and shocking, and does not represent the exceptional character of our military and the respect that the United States has for the people of Afghanistan.”
Afghan officials also fear there will be violent demonstrations and have deployed extra police and troops around Kandahar.
President Hamid Karzai described the killings as the “intentional killing of innocent civilians” and said they could “not be forgiven”.
This is the first time Afghan civilians have been targeted by foreign soldiers in this way.
However, one US soldier was convicted last year on three counts of premeditated murder after leading a rogue “kill team” in Afghanistan.
A recent poll by ABC News and The Washington Post found 60% of Americans believe the war in Afghanistan is not worth its costs. Nearly the same number advocated an early US pullout from the country.
On a previously unannounced trip to Afghanistan, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel said she could not be sure German troops would withdraw by 2014 as originally planned, but they were working towards that target.
The Italian clothing company Benetton has been heavily criticized by the Vatican for using an image of Pope Benedict kissing an imam on the mouth in its latest shock advertising campaign.
The controversial image, which was hung from a bridge near the holy city early today, shows the Pope embracing Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb, one of Islam’s leading figures.
Other images in the campaign, which is part of the Benetton’s support for the Unhate Foundation, show various world leaders kissing on the mouth.
The Italian clothing company Benetton has been heavily criticized by the Vatican for using an image of Pope Benedict kissing an imam on the mouth in its latest shock advertising campaign
The campaign includes a picture of U.S. President Barack Obama kissing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi called the unauthorized and “manipulative” use of the pope’s picture in the photo montage “totally unacceptable” and suggested it might take legal action against the company.
“This is a grave lack of respect for the Pope, an offence against the sentiments of the faithful and a clear example of how advertising can violate elementary rules of respect for people in order to attract attention through provocation,” Federico Lombardi said in a statement.
Benetton campaign includes a picture of U.S. President Barack Obama kissing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
Benetton has run controversial advertising campaigns in the past, including one that showed grieving parents at the bedside of a man dying of Aids.
Other images in the latest campaign include Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel kissing French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in a clinch with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The latest Benetton campaign includes a image of Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel kissing French president Nicolas Sarkozy
Benetton says it hopes the campaign will held contribute towards combating hatred and lead to the creation of a culture of tolerance.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Alessandro Benetton, deputy chairman of Benetton Group SpA and son of the founder of the family-controlled company, said: “It means not hating. In a moment of darkness, with the financial crisis, what’s going on in North African countries, in Athens, this is an attitude we can all embrace that can have positive energy.”
Benetton is planning a series of live events in which youngsters will post the controversial images on the walls of locations of cities around the world.
Silvio Berlusconi is at the centre of a new controversy after claims emerged he had insulted Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Silvio Berlusconi, the 74 year-old Italian prime minister is now accused of making insulting comments about Angela Merkel during a telephone conversation with a newspaper editor.
The vulgar remarks referred to sex and Angela Merkel’s physique and were picked up by investigators probing a 500,000 euro blackmail plot against Silvio Berlusconi.
Silvio Berlusconi is accused of making insulting comments about Angela Merkel during a telephone conversation with a newspaper editor
It has been suggested that, in a phone call in early July, Silvio Berlusconi referred to 57-year-old Angela Merkel as “an un****able fat b***”.
Silvio Berlusconi was also taped while branding his own country “s**t” and claimed the judiciary were out to get him during the phone call with Valter Lavitola, which took place in early July.
Fragments of the taped conversation have been circulating in Italian newspapers for days. Though the alleged comment has not been published, it has been posted on a number of websites.
Today the scandal moved to Germany where the Bild newspaper ran the story under the headline “Did Berlusconi insult our Chancellor Merkel?”.
Silvio Berlusconi’ spokesman said they had no comment to make.
Il Giornale, the newspaper owned by Berlusconi family, described the allegation as “gossip”.
This is not the first time when Silvio Berlusconi is accused of insulting the German Chancellor though the previous instances have been relatively trivial.
Two years ago, he kept Angela Merkel waiting at an official summit while he chatted on his mobile telephone.
In 2008, Silvio Berlusconi “jumped” out at her from behind a statute and showed “peek a boo” when Merkel arrived in Italy for an official visit.
The taped phone calls are part of an investigation into allegations that Valter Lavitola, businessman Giampaolo Tarantini and his wife Angela Devenuto had blackmailed Silvio Berlusconi.
It is claimed Silvio Berlusconi had paid hush money to all three over allegations about his dealings with escort girls who attended so-called “bunga bunga” parties at his official residences.
Giampaolo Tarantini is accused of bringing the women to events at Palazzo Grazioli in Rome. Prosecutors allege he was paid at least 500,000 euro to tell officials Silvio Berlusconi had no idea that they were escort girls.
One of the women was Patrizia D’Addario who claimed she was paid to spend the night with the Italian prime minister.
Tarantini is also under investigation for supplying cocaine to high-profile clients in parties held on the Italian island of Sardinia – where Silvio Berlusconi has a home.
Ten days ago Berlusconi confirmed he had paid the money but insisted had “merely been helping out someone who was going through a rough time.”
At the beginning of this week Silvio Berlusconi had been due to meet prosecutors to discuss the blackmail but he pulled out at the last minute insisting he had to meet European Union chiefs in Brussels and Strasbourg to reassure them Italy was tackling its financial crisis.
Prosecutors have told him he must present himself at their office in Naples before Sunday at 8pm or they will declare him a hostile witness and call in police to forcibly bring him in for questioning.
Giampaolo Tarantini and Angela Devenuto were arrested earlier this month in their luxury apartment in Rome as part of the probe and they are now in custody. Valter Lavitola is said to be in Brazil.
Silvio Berlusconi, who is not under investigation but considered a victim, is currently involved in four trials. One of the trials is for having sex with an underage prostitute.
It was reported that Silvio Berlusconi have paid Moroccan born belly dancer Karima El Mahroug to spend the night at his villa near Milan when she was just 17 and therefore still a minor under Italian law.
Silvio Berlusconi is also said to have paid 32 other women for sexual favors with cash, jewellery and cars to attend the parties and the trial is set to resume in Milan in October.