British hostage may have been killed by US grenade: Cameron

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A British aid worker who died in a failed US rescue attempt in Afghanistan may have been killed by a grenade detonated by US troops and not by her kidnappers, Prime Minister David Cameron said Monday.

Cameron said an investigation would now be launched into the operation on Friday that led to the death of Linda Norgrove, 36, who was abducted on September 26 in eastern Afghanistan bordering Pakistan.

"Linda could have died as a result of a grenade detonated by the task force during the assault. However this is not certain and a full US-UK investigation will now be launched," Cameron told a news conference at Downing Street.

He said the top US commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, had contacted him on Monday to inform him that after a review of the botched operation "new information had come to light about the circumstances surrounding Linda's death."

"General Petraeus has since told me that that review has revealed evidence to indicate that Linda may not have died at the hands of her captors as originally believed."

The announcement came a day after a British government official said Norgrove was likely killed by a suicide vest held by one of the kidnappers and there was no suggestion that her death was due to US action.

Norgrove was working for US development group DAI when she was captured while travelling in Kunar province, a hotbed of Taliban activity in eastern Afghanistan.

In Kabul, a US military statement confirmed that Petraeus had ordered the investigation "immediately following additional information developed by the military commander in charge of the rescue operation."

It said initial reports indicated the blast was triggered by her captors but added: "Subsequent review of surveillance footage and discussions with members of the rescue team do not conclusively determine the cause of her death."

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he would not deliver his won assessment until the outcome of the investigation.

"But whatever happened, I would like to stress that those who are responsible, of course, are the captors. Those who captured the British aid worker, they're responsible whatever happens," he told reporters in Brussels.

Cameron -- who emerged an hour late for the London news conference, looking grim-faced -- said the decision to launch the operation "was not an easy one" and was taken by Foreign Secretary William Hague with his full support.

"I think it was the right decision because of the information and advice that we were given. I am deeply sorry and distressed that it has not worked out in the way that we all wanted it to work out," Cameron said.

"Linda's life was in grave danger from the moment she was taken.

"Those on the ground and in London feared she was going to be passed up the terrorist chain which would increase further the already high risk that she would be killed."

Once hostages are smuggled across the Afghan border into Pakistan, particularly the tribal belt that lies outside direct government control, tracking their whereabouts becomes far more difficult.

Pakistani officials have described the tribal badlands, a suspected hiding place of Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden, as an intelligence black hole while Western officials have dubbed it the "most dangerous place in the world."

Cameron hailed US forces for doing "everything in their power in bring Linda home safely".

"We should also remember that ultimately, the responsibility for Linda's death lies with those who took her hostage. The US forces placed their own lives in danger," he said.

"General Petraeus has told me they are deeply dismayed at the outcome. I want to thank them for their courage."

© 2010 AFP

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