British judge grants anonymity to 5 Royal Marines accused of murder in Afghanistan

Five Royal Marines accused of a murder in Afghanistan have the right to remain anonymous during their trial because they could face attack if identified, a British military judge said Wednesday.

The five men, identified only as Marines A, B, C, D and E, were charged last month with the murder of an unidentified captured Afghan national on or about Sept. 15, 2011.

UK military officials have said the incident involved an "engagement with an insurgent" in Helmand province, where the majority of Britain's 9,500 troops in Afghanistan are deployed. They say no civilians were involved.

British news organizations, including the Press Association agency and the Guardian newspaper, challenged an order that the men — who have been released from custody and allowed to return to their units — could not be publicly identified until the end of court martial proceedings.

But Judge Advocate General Jeff Blackett ruled that "there may be a real and immediate risk to the defendants' lives" from terrorists or "lone wolf" attackers if they were named.

The judge said that risk "will increase significantly when all of the prosecution evidence is disclosed as the trial unfolds." He said, "I am not prepared to take a chance with these men's lives."

The defendants are the first British troops to be charged with murder in Afghanistan since deployments began there in 2001.

Blackett said he would reconsider the anonymity order if any of the men was convicted.

Their next court hearing is set for Dec. 10.