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Germany suspends more troops in Afghan skull probe

Reuters | November 1 2006

Germany has suspended four more soldiers for their involvement in the desecration of human skulls in Afghanistan, taking the total number of suspensions to six, a Defense Ministry spokesman said on Wednesday.

The number of suspects being investigated had risen to 23 from 20, the spokesman told reporters at a regular government news conference. Of those, 16 are active soldiers, he added.

A week ago, top-selling Bild newspaper printed pictures of German soldiers in Afghanistan posing with human remains, including skulls. The paper said the pictures had been taken more than three years ago.

Further images followed, including one photograph purporting to show a German soldier carrying out a mock execution of a skeleton assembled from various human remains.

The emergence of more pictures raised fears that the problem was more than just an isolated incident.

The pictures caused outrage in Germany with top politicians, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, describing the troops' behavior as inexcusable and vowing to punish those involved.

The Defense Ministry spokesman said it appeared the remains did not come from a grave or memorial site.

"We have an indication that the field where these human remains were found is about two kilometres from the Camp Warehouse (base near Kabul)," he said.

Last week the Leipziger Volkszeitung daily said a field of bones near Kabul was used by international peacekeepers several times to stage grisly photo shoots. The photos could change hands for about 20,000 euros ($25,520), said the paper.

The ministry spokesman declined to comment on the origins or identity of the remains and did not confirm newspaper reports that three soldiers had confessed.

He said, however, there was no evidence that high-ranking German soldiers in Afghanistan had known of the photos.

The Defense Ministry is leading investigations into individuals still in the army and German state prosecutors are conducting probes into those no longer serving.


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