Image: Linda Norgrove
Provided by the U.K. Foreign Office
Linda Norgrove in a picture released by the U.K.'s Foreign Office on behalf of her family.
NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 10/14/2010 11:21:58 AM ET 2010-10-14T15:21:58

A grenade that may have killed a British aid worker during an attempt to rescue her from the Taliban was thrown by a U.S. Navy SEAL, a senior defense official told NBC News Thursday.

The source was not certain whether all of the U.S. forces involved in conducting the rescue operation were SEALS, but added, "they usually work in one team made up of only SEALS."

NATO had initially said Linda Norgrove, 36, was killed by a Taliban bomb during the operation on Friday last week.

However, the coalition said Monday that a review of surveillance tapes suggested it was possible she may have been killed mistakenly by people trying to rescue her.

The U.K.'s Guardian newspaper, citing sources in Kabul and London, reported Thursday that Norgrove had managed to break away from her captors in the darkness of a moonless night.

Fetal position
She then lay down in the fetal position, apparently to try to avoid being hit during the fighting, the paper said.

It added that the cause of death was still to be determined by an autopsy, but that Coalition commanders believed her fatal injuries were caused by the grenade.

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On Tuesday, President Barack Obama promised to "get to the bottom" of the failed rescue effort.

Norgrove, originally from Sutherland in the Scottish Highlands, worked on a U.S.-funded aid project for Development Alternatives Inc., a Bethesda, Maryland-based organization.

She was abducted in an ambush on Sept. 26 while driving toward Asadabad, the capital of Kunar province, according to Afghan officials. She was to oversee projects in the area.

Norgrove had worked in Afghanistan for years on various aid projects, spoke the language and was "dedicated to Afghanistan," according to a statement released by her employer. Her projects mainly involved working with farmers or on environmental protection programs.

She had donned a burqa — a body-covering robe worn by many Afghan women — for the trip during which she was kidnapped, local police said.

Three Afghan colleagues were also captured in the ambush but all were later released.

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When the rescue team assaulted the Taliban hideout, they came under fire from within the compound as well as from an over-watch position nearby, said Lt. Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman at NATO headquarters in Kabul on Monday.

All six gunmen who fought back against the U.S. force were killed, along with Norgrove. He said women and children in the compound were not hurt, and no one on the U.S. rescue team was wounded.

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has defended the rescue mission, saying it was clear that Norgrove was "in grave danger and the operation offered the best chance of saving her life."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Officials probe aid worker’s death

  1. Closed captioning of: Officials probe aid worker’s death

    >>> the role american forces may have played in the tragic death of a british aide worker during a rescue attempt in afghanistan . a joint investigation is under way. michelle kosinski is in london with details. good morning.

    >> no one was really questioning this rescue mission was extremely dangerous or the right thing to do at the time. the mystery was how the ex-explanation of this british aide worker's death changed from a bomb set by one of her captors to one thrown by u.s. troops . it prompted a question from president obama to the u.s. prime minister. at age 36, linda norgrove was ready and willing to take on the world. studied in scotland, england, had a phd and worked in loss and afghanistan for an american aide organization. where she and two colleagues were captured from their cars two weeks ago by a group known as al qaeda , and all were released but linda .

    >> linda 's life is in grave danger.

    >> reporter: friday night, known as "the valley of death ." u.s. forces launched a daring raid to save linda . something went wrong. u.s. explanation was specific.

    >> the hostage was killed in the end by her captive.

    >> reporter: an insurgent right next to linda detonated a bomb vest just before troops could reach her. monday morning, the u.s. said further review said friendly fire , possibly a grenade from american troops may have caused linda 's severe injuries. she died soon after.

    >> the british aide worker killed --

    >> reporter: confusing news here.

    >> the account of what took place has completely changed in 24 hours and highly embarrassing.

    >> the suspicion of a cover-up is something embarrassing --

    >> take a deep bret. it's war. she was killed by an explosion and they would have assumed it was one of her captors. it's curious to me why any hand grenades were used during the assault. normally, they break in, in the dark and shoot people at point-blank range using night vision equipment . they don't use lethal fragmentation grenades .

    >> reporter: now, from the mountains of afghanistan to scotland, linda 's home, in westminster and washington, there are questions. a brave young woman working for the best of human intentions died being saved from the worst.

    >>> now that the u.s. and britain are working together on the investigation and today, u.s. general petraeus , the top commander of forces in afghanistan will meet wit david cameron in london, matt.

    >> michelle, thank you for your report. jury selection begins in the trial of the u.s.

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