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'Repugnant': U.S. army apologises for graphic photos of soldiers with civilian corpses as violence is feared in Afghanistan

* U.S. army forced to issue an apology over 'trophy' photos of soldiers grinning over bloodied Afghan corpses.
* Commanders in Afghanistan bracing themselves for public fury and possible riots
* German newspaper Der Spiegel, who obtained the photographs, said there are thousands more showing other victims

The U.S. Army has been forced to apologise over what they have deemed as 'repugnant' photographs of grinning American soldiers standing over bloodied and partially-naked Afghan bodies they had allegedly killed.

The pictures were published by German news organisation Der Spiegel and were among 4,000 they have obtained.

Meanwhile, commanders in Afghanistan are bracing themselves for a public backlash and possible riots over the 'trophy' photographs, especially since it has been alleged that the Afghan civilians were unarmed and innocent.

Senior officials at Nato's International Security Assistance Force in Kabul have compared the pictures published by the German news weekly to the images of U.S. soldiers abusing prisoners in Abu Ghraib in Iraq which sparked waves of anti-U.S. protests around the world.

It is feared that these pictures - which show the aftermath of the murders at the hands of a rogue U.S. Stryker 'kill team' - could be even more damaging as the trials of the 12 accused men are currently under way in Seattle.

On Sunday night, many organisations employing foreign staff - including the United Nations - ordered their staff into a 'lockdown', banning all movements around Kabul and requiring people to remain in their compounds.

Army officials attempted to keep the photographs under wraps as part of the war crimes probe fearing it could inflame feelings at a time when anti-Americanism in Afghanistan is already running high.

In their statement, the U.S. army said the photographs depicted 'actions repugnant to us as human beings and contrary to the standards and values of the United States Army.

'The actions portrayed in these photographs remain under investigation and are now the subject of ongoing U.S. court-martial proceedings, in which the accused are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.'

Der Spiegel magazine says it has identified one of the soldiers in the photographs as Cpl Jeremy Morlock of Alaska.

He is one of five soldiers accused of the premeditated murder of three Afghan civilians earlier this year.

Morlock agreed to plead guilty in late February and get a shorter prison term if he testified against the other accused soldiers.

Four other soldiers based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord have been charged with murder and conspiracy in the case - they deny the charges.

Seven others have been charged with conspiracy to cover up the alleged murders.

Other charges include the mutilation of corpses, the possession of images of human casualties and drug abuse.

In one of the photos, Morlock is seen grinning as he lifts up the head of a corpse by the hair, turning it towards the camera.

Der Spiegel identified the body as that of Gul Mudin, whom Morlock was charged with killing on 15 January 2010, in Kandahar Province.

Another photo shows Private 1st Class Andrew Holmes, of Boise, Idaho, holding the head of the same corpse.

His lawyer, Daniel Conway, said on Sunday that Holmes was ordered 'to be in the photo, so he got in the photo. That doesn't make him a murderer'.

The five accused of murder allegedly threw grenades and opened fire on civilians in unprovoked assaults, while the other seven are accused of dismembering the victims and collecting body parts.

They are accused of staging the killings to make it look like they were defending themselves from Taliban attacks.

The magazine, which is planning to publish only three images, said that in addition to the crimes the men were on trial for there are 'also entire collections of pictures of other victims that some of the defendants were keeping'.

The photo was taken while the platoon leader, Lieutenant Roman Ligsay, was present, Mr Conway said. Ligsay has asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in refusing to testify in the legal proceedings against his troops.

Mr Conway sought copies of the photographs so that he could present them to a ballistics expert, who he argued might be able to tell whether the victim had been struck by the weapon Holmes was carrying. His request was rejected.

He said: 'I'm very disappointed that, in an American judicial proceeding, I have to get potentially exculpatory evidence from a German newspaper.'

A record number of civilians were killed in Afghanistan last year. More than 2,700 civilians were killed in 2010 - up 15 per cent on the year before.

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