US officials clear family of suspect in Afghan runway attack

U.S. military officials have questioned and cleared the brother and father of an Afghan man who tried to run down a delegation of American officials, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. 

The Afghan national, along with his family members, was working as an interpreter at the Bastion airfield in Afghanistan's restive Helmand Province where the attack took place. Investigators with the International Security Assistance Force questioned a third man in connection with the attack who is not related to the suspect, according to Armed Forces Press Service.  

Investigators have since cleared all the men, noting that there are "no indications any of the three questioned had previous knowledge of the attack or of the secretary's planned visit," an ISAF official told AFPS. The attacker died early Thursday morning from severe burns suffered during the attempted attack, according to the report. 

Panetta was arriving in Afghanistan for an unscheduled visit when the attacker drove a stolen white Hilux sport utility vehicle belonging to British forces from nearby Camp Leatherneck. The truck ran onto the airfield as Panetta's plane was taxiing in, according to the ISAF official. 

"We believe that he intended to cause harm to individuals ... [but] we don't know ... if he knew specifically who he was heading toward," the official said.

While Panetta and members of the visiting delegation were in no danger at the time, ISAF investigators did note the attacker was attempting to light himself or something in the truck on fire. While it's still unclear what the man was trying to ignite, there were no explosives found inside the truck, Pentagon press secretary George Little said on Sunday. 

Panetta's trip was an attempt by the White House to quickly repair relations with the Afghan government after Sunday's unprovoked killing of 16 Afghan civilians allegedly by a U.S. Army soldier. 

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai called the civilian deaths “an assassination” and said they “cannot be forgiven,” in a statement released the day the incident occurred. The American service member suspected in the attack has since been taken out of country and will likely be transported to the U.S. military's maximum-security facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.