US fire scatters crowd after Afghan bomb-witness

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BATI KOT, Afghanistan, Sep 27 (Reuters) At least one U S soldier opened fire to scatter a crowd of civilians and police today after failed suicide bomb attacks on a U S military convoy, the US military and witnesses said.

A car bomb targeting a US convoy in the village of Bati Kot, 15 km east of Jalalabad, killed the driver, two passengers and a nearby civilian, but none of the soldiers was hurt, the US military said in a statement.

Afghan police securing the site in eastern Afghanistan were then attacked by an insurgent dressed in police uniform. He was killed by the police and coalition troops before he could detonate his suicide vest, the statement said.

To add to the confusion, a fire brigade vehicle speeding to the scene rammed into the US and Afghan vehicles.

''I saw the fire brigade vehicle rushing to the area at top speed. Somehow its brakes failed and hit one police vehicle and coalition vehicles, then the Americans started firing,'' said Reuters correspondent Noor Mohammad Sherzai.

A spokesman for US-led coalition forces said only one soldier had opened fire. ''A US servicemen fired two shots and those shots were away from the crowd and not directed toward the crowd,'' said Major Joe Klopple.

The shots were fired to disperse the crowd out of concern for their safety because of what was thought to be another approaching suicide bomber, the US statement said.

POLICE FLEE Sherzai and other reporters at the scene said many shots were fired and Afghan police were among those fleeing the scene.

''I was running away as fast as I could, but some of the police overtook me,'' Sherzai said. The police, he said, ''were very angry because the Americans were shooting and wanted to shoot back but others stopped them''.

''A bullet hit the ground between my legs while I was running,'' said Takiullah Taki, a cameraman for private Afghan channel Tolo TV. ''Some Afghan national police wanted to shoot back, but others said that would make the situation deteriorate further so they did not.'' Four Afghan investigators were injured in the vehicle accident and taken to hospital, the military said.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the suicide attack.

Afghans staged angry protests in Jalalabad in March after U.S. Marines killed at least 10 civilians there following a suicide bomb attack.

Elsewhere, two Danish soldiers were killed in an attack on a forward operating base near the town of Gereshk in the southern province of Helmand overnight, a British military spokesman said. Another Danish soldier was also wounded in the attack.

British troops launched a large operation north of Gereshk last week to clear Taliban rebels from the area. US troops said they had killed scores of Taliban insurgents in the last few days in operations in Helmand and neighbouring Uruzgan province.

Afghanistan's Interior Ministry said today police had captured Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousuf. But Yousuf called a Reuters reporter and denied he had been detained.

''I'm here in this room. I'm free,'' he said.

REUTERS PD HT2312

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