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U.S. anthropologist set on fire by Afghan dies

An anthropologist embedded with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan to help soldiers understand local customs has died more than two months after she was doused with fuel and set on fire.
/ Source: The Associated Press

An anthropologist embedded with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan to help soldiers understand local customs has died more than two months after she was doused with fuel and set on fire.

The attack on Paula Loyd, 36, prompted an alleged revenge killing by one of Loyd's colleagues, who now faces the first murder charges ever filed against a military contractor in Afghanistan or Iraq under a 2000 law that allows such prosecutions. Don Ayala of New Orleans is charged with second-degree murder in U.S. District Court in Alexandria.

Loyd suffered second and third-degree burns over 60 percent of her body in the Nov. 4 attack west of Kandahar and died Wednesday at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

Celia Jones, executive director of The Moonlight Fund, a nonprofit organization that assists burn victims and their families and worked closely with the Loyds during her two-month hospital stay, said Loyd had actually been chatting with an Afghan man about fuel prices when he suddenly attacked her.

"It was such a senseless act," Jones said.

On Human Terrain Team
Loyd worked for contractor BAE Systems in what the Army calls a Human Terrain Team, in which social scientists and anthropologists are embedded with combat brigades, according to court records.

According to an affidavit, an Afghan civilian named Abdul Salam ignited a pitcher of fuel and threw it on Loyd.

Ayala, 46, who worked for BAE subcontractor Strategic Analysis, Inc., helped subdue and arrest Salam, who was restrained and placed in plastic handcuffs. About 10 minutes later, after a soldier reported the extent of Loyd's injuries, Ayala pointed a pistol at Salam's head and fatally shot him, according to the affidavit. His trial date has not been set.

The Loyd family lived in San Antonio when Paula was a child but moved to the U.S. Virgin Islands when she was 13 at her urging, according to Jones. Paula Loyd had told her parents she wanted to live in a place where she would be a minority.

She earned a cultural anthropology degree from Wellesley College and spent much of her career abroad.

Earlier served in Bosnia
According to BAE Systems, which is headquartered in Rockville, Md., Loyd served in Bosnia as a U.S. Army reservist, working on civil military affairs projects. She had spent significant time in Afghanistan, working as a civilian military officer for a United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, and also as a field program officer for the U.S. Agency for International Development in one of Afghanistan's poorest provinces.

"Paula's vast experience in Afghan reconstruction efforts, her thorough professionalism, and gentle demeanor had a profound impact on the units she supported," said Ted Wright, acting president of BAE Systems' technology solutions and services division, in a statement. "She was committed to helping improve conditions in Afghanistan. Our thoughts and prayers are with Paula's family and friends."

Ayala, at various times in his career, provided personal security to Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, according to court records.

Court records indicate that an indictment against Ayala has been delayed while prosecutors and defense attorneys discuss a possible plea. Such filings are commonplace, though, and do not necessarily indicate that a deal is imminent.

Ayala's attorney, federal public defender Michael Nachmanoff, declined comment.