July 2, 2015 / 6:03 PM / in 2 years

Afghan 'hero soldier' of parliament attack arrested in traffic death

Essa Khan, 24, an Afghan soldier speaks during an interview at the Afghan Parliament entrance gate in Kabul, Afghanistan June 23, 2015. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

KABUL (Reuters) - An Afghan soldier hailed as a hero for defending parliament from a Taliban assault has been arrested after a fatal traffic accident in Kabul involving a car he had been given as a reward, the Ministry of Interior said on Thursday.

Essa Khan became an overnight sensation in Afghanistan after he shot Taliban gunmen trying to enter parliament on June 22 following a car bomb outside the complex in an attack that killed a woman and a child.

His face was plastered on posters and billboards in Kabul as Afghans eagerly embraced a rare bit of good news for the national armed forces struggling against the insurgency this year without backup from U.S. air strikes.

The 28-year-old drew praise from President Ashraf Ghani, who called him a “brave son of this nation” and handed him the keys to a new apartment as a reward.

However, just 10 days after the attack on parliament, Khan was in police custody as a result of a fatal crash in Kabul.

“Essa Khan has been involved in an unfortunate traffic accident in which one civilian lost his life,” ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told Reuters. “Police are investigating the case and Essa Khan is in police custody.”

He said initial reports were that Khan was at the wheel of the vehicle, which was a gift from First Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum, an influential former warlord and anti-Taliban fighter, also in recognition of his bravery.

The military was not immediately available for comment on behalf of the soldier, and details of any legal representatives for him were not immediately available.

The Taliban has made territorial gains and launched a series of deadly attacks across the country since announcing a summer offensive, leaving Afghan forces facing their biggest test since NATO combat troops withdrew from the country at the end of 2014.

Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Alison Williams

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