Panetta Security Scare Suspect Dies of Burns

PHOTO: Leon PanettaPlayScott Olson/Pool/AP Photo
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The Afghan man who Western officials say sparked a security scare in the midst of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's high profile visit to Afghanistan Wednesday has died of wounds sustained in the incident, defense officials told reporters.

The attacker, described by Western officials as a civilian translator for coalition forces, had stolen a truck from a British soldier -- who sustained a broken pelvis during the theft -- and raced it onto the runway where Panetta had just landed at Camp Bastion, according to several officials. As Panetta sat in a military transport plane, the man then crashed the truck into a ditch and emerged from the wreck engulfed in flames.

The man still attempted to attack soldiers, who responded to the scene, by jumping on the side of one of their vehicles while on fire. The soldiers were eventually able to wrestle the man to the ground and put out the flames -- but not before the man suffered serious burns, the officials said. He was reportedly wearing the top half of a stolen U.S. Marine's flame-retardant uniform and therefore suffered the most severe burns on the lower half of his body. Later, investigators found a gasoline container in the truck.

READ: Soldiers Tackle Man on Fire During Panetta's Afghan Visit

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During the incident, Panetta's plane was diverted to a different part of the runway.

Hours later, Pentagon spokesperson Capt. John Kirby told reporters the U.S. military was still investigating what the man's motivation or intended target may have been, but said "we don't have any indication right now that this was meant as a threat to the secretary." A high-level military commander traveling with Panetta said it was more likely the man had been targeting a group of U.S. Marines assembled on the airstrip ramp.

Both in the U.S. and in Afghanistan, tensions have been high since an American soldier was accused of murdering 16 Afghan civilians -- including three women and nine children -- in an apparent unprovoked massacre over the weekend.

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In an apparent sign of the strain over security, during one of Panetta's stops, U.S. Marines were given the unusual order to leave their weapons outside while the Defense Secretary spoke. All Afghan troops in attendance were unarmed as well.

On the home front, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin to law enforcement late Wednesday warning that the alleged killing spree could incite violence from homegrown terrorists in the U.S.

READ: FBI Warns of Homegrown Violence After Afghan Massacre

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