(BBC News) U.K. special forces killed nine people “in their beds” during an Afghanistan night raid, an independent inquiry has heard.
Family members say the victims were unarmed civilians. The SAS had claimed they acted in self-defence.
Senior officers suspected troops of carrying out a policy of executing “fighting age” men even if they posed no threat.
The government announced the inquiry after BBC Panorama revealed an SAS squadron killed 54 people in suspicious circumstances on one six-month tour.
As substantive hearings got under way at the Royal Courts of Justice in London on Monday, UK special forces were accused of “abusing” night raids in order to commit “numerous” extra-judicial killings — which were allegedly later covered up.
Hundreds of deliberate detention operations were carried out by special forces between 2010 and 2013.
Lead counsel to the inquiry, Oliver Glasgow KC, set out the details of seven separate kill/capture missions involving the deaths of 33 people, including a number of children.
The alleged unlawful killings of the nine people in the Nad Ali district of Helmand is understood to have occurred as a number of families gathered before a wake on February 7, 2011.
They were sleeping in a single-roomed outbuilding.
The SAS said they had fired in self-defence having been fired upon. Glasgow pointed out the low height of what appear to be bullet holes in the walls of the outbuilding, first revealed by the BBC last year.
Habibullah Alizai, who owns the home that was raided on February 7, said he was awoken by the “noise of shouting and gunshots” before soldiers took him from his room to be “interrogated and beaten.”
Alizai was the first to discover the bodies of his two sons, and the seven others who had been killed.
Glasgow told the hearing: “The family insist that all the deceased were innocent civilians, that no one in the compound was armed and that there were no weapons present.
“We anticipate the evidence from the families will be that they were shot in bed, most likely while asleep.”
The family said the youngest was 14 years old.
The special forces squadron said in post-operational paperwork that operatives were “engaged by armed men” so returned fire, resulting in the nine deaths.
It added that three AK-47 assault rifles were found in the outbuilding. The SAS has been accused of planting weapons in order to justify illegal killings.
An internal special forces Serious Incident Review, which had access to photographs taken by the SAS at the scene and statements from the British troops involved, concluded that “the actions taken were wholly appropriate” and recommended “no further investigative action.”
The inquiry is set to hear submissions on behalf of the families of 33 people, including eight under-18s, who were killed by special forces.
Members of the families called on the inquiry to “provide us with the truth.”
Allegations of cover-ups of illegal activity and inadequate investigations by the Royal Military Police (RMP) will also be examined.