updated 1/10/2008 4:01:24 PM ET 2008-01-10T21:01:24

The U.S. Marine driver of a Humvee targeted by a car bombing in Afghanistan last year said Thursday he heard distant gunfire after the explosion, testimony that followed his comrades claims that they were fired upon.

A U.S. Army investigation concluded 19 Afghan civilians died and 50 were wounded in the shooting.

Sgt. Heriberto Becerra-Bravo said the March 4 blast violently shook his vehicle, and the Humvee's gunner then began firing his machine gun. Becerra-Bravo said he could hear small arms fire in the distance during pauses in the gunner's response.

"He was firing in controlled bursts. ... eight to 10 rounds at a time," Becerra-Bravo said.

Other servicemen testified Wednesday that the six-vehicle convoy was fired on after the bombing. They spoke as part of an unusual Marine "Court of Inquiry," a fact-finding proceeding that will recommend whether two officers involved in the shooting will be charged with a crime.

Afghan group challenges U.S. action
Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission had concluded the Marines had fired indiscriminately at pedestrians and motorists in response to the bombing.

But attorneys for the two officers, Maj. Fred C. Galvin, the company commander, and Capt. Vincent J. Noble, a platoon leader, argue that the shootings were a justified reaction to a well-planned ambush, and that the death toll was lower than the 19 that the Army counted.

On Wednesday, one Marine in the lead Humvee testified that the ambush was so severe that crossfire cut tree branches as the convoy fled.

"You could see branches falling across the road ... all along our route," testified Sgt. Benjamin Baker. "We were taking semiautomatic small arms fire all along this road."

Another witness, Sgt. Brett Hayes, testified that the convoy was fired upon at least three times. Hayes said the gunner in his Humvee shouted that he was taking small arms fire from both sides of the road, and Hayes said he heard cracks of the bullets passing overhead.

"I'm 100 percent sure we were taking fire," Hayes said. "And I'm sure we had to kill some guys who were shooting at us."

Habib Sahar, a U.S. citizen working in Afghanistan as a translator for the military, also testified Wednesday that he heard gunfire in the distance after the car bombing, a defense lawyer said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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