Suspected insurgents fired automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades Tuesday at a government delegation offering condolences to villagers in a district of Kandahar province where a U.S. soldier is accused of going on a shooting rampage.
No one in the delegation, which included two brothers of President Hamid Karzai and a number of high-level officials, was injured, but a member of the Afghan security forces was killed and another was wounded, witnesses and officials said.
Members of the delegation, which also included the Afghan army chief of staff, a Cabinet minister and the Kandahar governor, had just emerged from a mosque in Panjwayi district when gunfire erupted, officials said. Karzai’s elder brother, Abdul Qayum Karzai, said the late-morning attack briefly caused chaos but that the group returned safely to Kandahar city, about 20 miles away.
Earlier, delegation members met with the families of victims of Sunday’s attack, which the U.S. military said was carried out by a soldier acting alone and without authorization. Nine of the 16 killed were children.
In what would be the most serious atrocity deliberately committed by a member of the U.S. military in the 10-year-old war, officials said the suspect went methodically from house to house, shooting some victims point-blank and gunning down others as they tried to flee.
The Taliban movement, which has been issuing statements daily denouncing the attack, made its harshest threat yet against U.S. forces on Tuesday, vowing to “behead your sadistic, murderous soldiers in every part of the country.”
Relatives of the dead responded angrily when delegation members assured them that the assailant would be brought to justice, and brushed off suggestions that he was a deranged individual not responsible for his actions. U.S. officials have said the soldier in custody, a 38-year-old father of two, had suffered a head injury during a tour in Iraq.
Although Sunday’s shootings have not triggered mass protests like those last month that followed the accidental burning of copies of the Koran at a U.S. military base, several hundred people rallied Tuesday in the eastern city of Jalalabad, the first substantial demonstration since the killings in Panjwayi.
Grisly photos of the victims have been shown on Afghan television and posted on social media sites, which has stoked public anger.
In Jalalabad, protesters shouted, “Death to America!” and burned an effigy of President Obama.
Obama, speaking in Washington, pledged justice for the victims of the shooting rampage, saying his administration would “spare no effort” in conducting a full investigation.
“I can assure the American people and the Afghan people that we will follow the facts wherever they lead us, and we will make sure that anybody who was involved is held fully accountable with the full force of the law,” he told reporters in the White House Rose Garden.
“The United States takes this as seriously as if it was our own citizens and our own children who were murdered,” he said. “We’re heartbroken over the loss of innocent life. The killing of innocent civilians is outrageous and it’s unacceptable. It’s not who we are as a country, and it does not represent our military.”
Times staff writer Christi Parsons in Washington contributed to this report.