SAS HUNT RENEGADE AFGHAN; Murderer could have had al-Qaeda support.
THE SAS were last night believed to be closing in on the Afghan soldier who killed three British soldiers in their base.
Special forces, including the elite Special Air Service, traced his escape route from the 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkhas base in Nahr-e-Saraj, Helmand.
The massive manhunt came as it emerged the rebel soldier, named locally as Talib Hussein, may have been backed by al-Qaeda.
In the early hours of Tuesday, he shot dead Major James Bowman, 34, in his sleeping quarters at Patrol Base 3, near Lashkar Gar.
Lieutenant Neal Turkington, 26, of Portadown, Northern Ireland, and Gurkha Corporal Arjun Purja Pun, 33, died when Hussein fired a rocketpropelled grenade into the command centre.
Four others were hurt. Hussein, 23, had been in the Afghan army for just over a year. The Taliban have claimed he had joined their insurgency and they were now protecting him.
Helmand governor Gulab Mangal insisted the massacre could not have been the work of one man.
He said: "I am sure the Taliban helped but I think it was foreign terroristrelated.
And when we speak about foreign terrorism, that includes al-Qaeda."
But Defence Secretary Liam Fox told MPs: "Indications are this was an individual. He's known. He's being followed and hopefully will be captured."
Maj Bowman, of Salisbury, Wiltshire, was described by his family as "the best possible son and brother". In a statement, they added: "He loved the Army and was very proud of the selfless work he and his company were doing."
His commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Gerald Strickland, said: "The tragedy of his loss is beyond words."
Devastated Lt Turkington's family said they were "devastated" by his death.
They said: "Neal was jovial, kind, considerate and loyal to his family and friends. We couldn't have asked for a finer son, brother and friend."
Cpl Pun's wife Durga said: "Arjun was a tremendous husband. He died doing a job he loved."
TRAGIC: Maj Bowman, Lt Turkington and Cpl Pun