updated 12/19/2006 10:01:11 PM ET 2006-12-20T03:01:11

A U.S. Marine captain has been told that he will be charged in connection with the deaths last year of 24 unarmed civilians in Haditha, Iraq, his attorney said Tuesday.

Capt. Lucas McConnell does not know what charges he will face, lawyer Kevin McDermott told Reuters, adding that the 31-year-old officer was not at the scene of the November 2005 killings. Some Iraqis have called the incident a massacre and one of the worst U.S. atrocities in the war.

“They put the word out through his commander basically saying he needs to be available Thursday morning,” McDermott said, adding that U.S. military prosecutors had not contacted defense attorneys directly.

Sources say the military will announce charges Thursday against a group of Marines in the Haditha deaths, one in a series of cases in which U.S. service members have been accused of killing Iraqi civilians.

McDermott said he expected McConnell and the other defendants to be served with court papers Thursday morning followed by a press conference in the afternoon at Camp Pendleton, California, during which the military would announce the charges.

Officer may face lesser charge
While there has been speculation in the media that some defendants could be accused of murder in Haditha, McDermott said at least one defense lawyer has been assured that his client would not be taken into custody, suggesting the possibility of lesser charges.

McDermott said that McConnell was monitoring fighting across Haditha at the time the two dozen men, women and children died and didn’t learn about the incident until that evening.

Iraqi witnesses say the Marines shot civilians in their homes to retaliate after their comrade Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas was killed by a roadside bomb.

Defense lawyers say the men from the Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division were engaged in a furious battle in Haditha after the bomb exploded and that innocent civilians may have died during the chaos.

Two investigations were launched into Haditha -- a murder inquiry and a probe into the Marines’ procedures after the killings.

Earlier this year  President Bush vowed that any U.S. Marine guilty of shooting Iraqi civilians would be punished. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has called the Haditha killings a “terrible crime.” 

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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