US Marines grilled over desecration video
Washington - Two American Marines pictured in a video urinating on the corpses of militants in Afghanistan have been questioned and two other suspects will be grilled soon, a US military official said on Friday.
The online video showed four US troops urinating on three bloodied corpses, and one of the men, apparently aware he was being filmed, saying: "Have a great day, buddy", referring to one of the dead.
All four are from a sniper unit in the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines based at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, the official said, noting that the two who were questioned by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service are on active duty.
Tracking down the second pair of Marines took longer, apparently because they had been transferred from Camp Lejeune but they also face questioning.
"They're not in custody" over the disturbing footage, added the US official, who asked not to be named because of the ongoing probe.
The 3rd Battalion 2nd Marines was deployed in southwestern Afghanistan's Helmand province from March to September last year, and the video "potentially" was shot during that period, the official said.
The images conjured up previous abuses committed by US troops during the decade-long war and also in Iraq and prompted a scramble by US officials to condemn the soldiers.
Feared anti-US protests over the video, which Afghan President Hamid Karzai described as "simply inhuman", failed to erupt after Friday prayers in Kabul, but anger ran deep on the streets.
"This is an absolutely savage act and condemnable in any religion," said Waheedullah, a 20-year-old road construction worker, as he left a mosque in Kabul.
"First they kill Afghans in their homeland and then they urinate on them. It is not acceptable - we should do it to them."
US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday said the behaviour in the video was "utterly deplorable", while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke of her "total dismay" at the acts.
Both vowed that the culprits would be found and punished.
But the mullah at Kabul's biggest mosque did not mention the incident in his sermon on Friday, and worshippers dispersed peacefully. Past protests have been sparked by inflammatory sermons.
"There has been kind of a deliberate effort by people inside the government to cover up the issue," Mati Kharoti, an Afghan analyst and commentator, told AFP.
"But this doesn't mean that nothing will happen. It takes time for people to become aware of the news, thus I believe there is a good possibility we will witness angry reactions in the coming days."
The muted reaction so far echoed a surprisingly measured response by the Taliban, whose Islamic fighters are believed to be the victims in the video.
A Taliban spokesperson condemned the behaviour of the soldiers as "barbaric", but said it would not derail tentative moves towards peace talks between the insurgents and the United States.
"Normally such an issue would be used to bash foreigners, but their reaction could be an indicator that they might be serious about talks," said Kate Clark of the Afghanistan Analysts Network.
The Afghan government also appeared to be choosing not to use the issue to inflame anger against its US allies, she said, pointing out that most demonstrations in Kabul tended to be organized, not spontaneous.
The video has been broadcast regularly by major Afghan TV channel Tolo News, but many of the country's more conservative citizens living outside the major cities do not have access to the pictures.
The scandal is the latest in a long line to tarnish the image of the US military in the past decade, from the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal in Iraq to more recent convictions of troops who killed Afghan civilians for sport.