U.S. soldier kills 16 Afghan civilians
02:22 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

NEW: A military official says the suspect is from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state

Afghan troops spotted the soldier leaving his outpost, ISAF officials say

"We call this an intentional act," Karzai says

Obama offers sympathy for "tragic and shocking" killings

Kabul, Afghanistan CNN  — 

An American soldier went on a house-to-house shooting spree in two villages in southern Afghanistan early Sunday, Afghan officials said, killing 16 people in what Afghanistan’s president called an “unforgivable” crime.

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said the soldier acted alone and turned himself in after opening fire on civilians. U.S. President Barack Obama called the killings “tragic and shocking,” and offered his condolences to the Afghan people in a phone call to his counterpart in Kabul, Hamid Karzai, the White House said.

But the attack is likely to further more anger at international forces following deadly riots over the burning of Qurans by U.S. troops.

“The Afghan people can withstand a lot of pain,” Prince Ali Seraj, the head of the National Coalition for Dialogue with the Tribes of Afghanistan, told CNN. “They can withstand collateral damage. They can withstand night raids. But murder is something that they totally abhor, and when that happens, they really want justice.”

In a statement issued by his office, Karzai said the killings took place in the district of Panjwai, about 25 km (15 miles) southwest of Kandahar, southern Afghanistan’s major city. Haji Agha Lali, a member of the provincial council, told CNN the soldier had attacked four houses in two nearby villages.

Map: Afghanistan

“We call this an intentional act,” Karzai said. He said the dead included four men, three women and nine children, calling the killings “acts of terror and unforgivable.” Another five people were wounded, he said.

Capt. Justin Brockhoff, an ISAF spokesman, said the wounded Afghans were being treated in ISAF facilities. The allied command did not give its own estimate of casualties.

Brockhoff said officials do not yet have a motive for the shooting, which is under investigation by both NATO and Afghan officials. And Maj. Jason Waggoner, another ISAF spokesman, said the soldier “was acting on his own.”

There were no military operations in the area, either on the ground or in the air, at the time, according to two senior ISAF officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. They said only one soldier, an Army staff sergeant, is believed to have been involved.

A U.S. military official told CNN later Sunday that the suspect is from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. The official said the soldier is assigned to a Special Forces unit.

A third ISAF official said Afghan troops spotted the soldier leaving his combat outpost around 3 a.m. Sunday and notified their American counterparts. The U.S. military did an immediate headcount, found the soldier was missing and dispatched a patrol to go look for him, the official said.

The officials said they have no knowledge at this point whether he had any previous medical or mental health issues in his record.

The patrol met him as he returned and took him into custody. He said nothing, and it was unclear whether they knew what had happened, the official said.

“We don’t know what motivated this individual, and we’re not sure where this is going to take us,” Capt. John Kirby, an ISAF spokesman, told CNN. But he said ISAF’s commander, Gen. John Allen, “has made it clear this inve