Sun, Aug 09, 2015 - Page 7 News List

US jury convicts Russian veteran in Afghan attack

Reuters, RICHMOND, Virginia

A photo provided by the US Government shows Irek Hamidullin surrendering after being wounded by US forces in Afghanistan on Nov. 29, 2009.

Photo: AP

A former Soviet army officer accused of being a Taliban fighter was found guilty of terrorism charges on Friday by a federal jury in Richmond, Virginia, a court official said.

Irek Hamidullin, 55, a former Soviet tank commander who converted to Islam, faced 15 counts ranging from supporting terrorists to firearms charges stemming from his orchestration of a 2009 attack on an Afghan Border Police base in eastern Afghanistan’s Khost Province.

He was the first military prisoner from Afghanistan to be tried in a US federal court. The jury of seven men and five women deliberated for more than eight hours before reaching their verdict.

Prosecutors portrayed Hamidullin as the mastermind of the attack with a goal to lure US troops into a trap and then pound them with heavy weapons and shoot down US helicopters.

“He clearly was setting up for American forces he knew would respond,” Assistant US Attorney James Gillis said.

Hamidullin faces a maximum penalty of life in prison, with sentencing scheduled for Nov. 6.

His defense attorney had countered that there was insufficient proof that Hamidullin had intended to kill Americans.

Hamidullin was indicted by a federal grand jury in Virginia last year. The charges included ordering his men to set up a machine gun and a recoilless rifle to bring down US military helicopters.

The jury heard testimony for a week and viewed evidence that included a battlefield videotape showing Afghan insurgents being raked by heavy fire from US helicopter gunships.

About 30 insurgents died in the attack. No US or Afghan military personnel were killed, and no US helicopters were fired on.

Authorities say Hamidullin was the sole insurgent survivor of the attack and he received serious wounds to his hip and lower parts of his body. Hamidullin was brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair.

Prosecutors contended that Hamidullin planned the attack for months — receiving approval from the Taliban and Haqqani Network, recruiting fighters and acquiring weapons.

One major dispute at trial was whether Hamidullin fired his AK-47 rifle at US and Afghan troops. Three soldiers testified that they either saw him raising the rifle to shoot or saw fire coming out of the rifle’s muzzle.

An American marksman credited with bringing down Hamidullin said he never saw him fire his weapon.

A defense attorney for Hamidullin was not immediately available for comment on Friday evening.

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