WASHINGTON: An Afghan who drove a hijacked vehicle onto the runway ramp as the US Defence Secretary, Mr Leon Panetta's plane was landing at a military airfield in Afghanistan died today of burn injuries, the US military said.
Mr Panetta was not hurt, but Pentagon officials said that the Afghan civilian emerged from the vehicle in flame and the attack was described by top US General Mike Scaparotti as an "intent to harm".
The Afghan interpretor set off an alarm when he speeded towards a group of marines as Mr Panetta's plane was landing at Camp Bastion, a British airfield next to Camp Leatherneck, a US marine base in Helmand province, the New York Times reported.
No explosives were found on the driver but the interpreter was engulfed in flames after crashing the vehicle and military officials said that he had a container of fuel in the car. "The driver passed away in medical care this morning," the General told mediapersons accompanying the defence secretary. The Afghan, a contract employee, hijacked a pick up truck from a soldier in the US-led coalition force about the same time as Panetta's aircraft was landing.
He drove the vehicle at high speed before it crashed into a ditch and emerged in flames, Mr Panetta's spokesperson, Mr George Little told mediapersons in Afghanistan.
The defence secretary travelled to Afghanistan just days after a US soldier shot dead 16 villagers – most of them women and children in Kandahar – raising anti-US sentiments.
The NYT said Panetta and his aides were aware of the crash shortly after it happened but he continued as planned with local Afghan officials and addressing marines at the US Camp.