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Deaths of Afghani civilians now a criminal investigation

Story Highlights

• Marines under investigation for actions after suicide bomb last month
• Marines accused of shooting civilians after bomb hit convoy
• U.S military officials said insurgents were firing at the Marines
From Mike Mount
CNN Washington Bureau
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. military commander investigating the actions of Marines after a suicide car bomb struck their convoy in Afghanistan last month has referred the case to the Navy's Criminal Investigative Service, Pentagon officials said.

Army Maj. Gen. Francis Kearney III, chief of Central Command's Special Operations unit, examined the March 4 case in which the Marines -- acting as special forces -- are alleged to have used excessive force on civilians after the attack.

Kearney later ordered the entire unit involved to leave the country.

His office said the case warrants further inquiry and that the investigation was passed up to the Central Command headquarters to "determine future courses of action."

In the eastern Afghanistan attack, a minivan packed with explosives crashed into a Marine convoy and detonated. No Marines were killed.

Witnesses allege that as the convoy sped away, the Marines began shooting into cars and at pedestrians.

The number of deaths is reported to be about 12, but numbers vary.

According to the coalition, the attack was a "complex ambush" with the convoy coming under small-arms fire from several directions after the initial bombing in Nangarhar province, near Jalalabad.

U.S military officials said insurgents were firing at the Marines after the car bomb exploded and that gunfire could have caused many of the deaths.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service has yet to open its investigation, according to Pentagon officials.

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