24 Mar 2012

Formal charges allege US soldier killed 17

10:41 am on 24 March 2012

The American soldier accused of killing Afghan villagers in a night-time massacre has been formally charged with seventeen counts of pre-meditated murder.

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales is also charged with six counts of attempted murder and a further six cases of assault, the BBC reports.

He is being held at a military prison in the United States and could face the death penalty, if convicted.

The shooting spree in Kandahar province earlier this month sparked outrage in Afghanistan, and led to calls for NATO to speed up its planned withdrawal of troops.

Sergeant Bales is the only known suspect in the killings, despite repeated Afghan assertions that more than one American was involved in the murder of nine Afghan children and eight adults in their homes in Kandahar province on 11 March.

Colonel Gary Kolb, spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan, told reporters that the charges were read to the soldier at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he is being held in solitary confinement at the military jail.

A lawyer for the sergeant, John Henry has played down reports that his client was drunk on the night of the killings, but said earlier this week Sergeant Bales remembers "very little" of the incident.

Taliban negotiators called off peace talks in the wake of the deadly rampage but the trial could take years, despite Afghan demands for swift and decisive justice.