Russian charged in Afghan attack pleads not guilty in U.S. court

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 07, 2014 12:15 PM

By Gary Robertson

RICHMOND Va. (Reuters) - A former Russian army officer pleaded not guilty on Friday to terrorism charges for a 2009 attack on U.S. and Afghan forces, and a U.S. District Court judge set trial for April 2015.

The suspect, Irek Ilgiz Hamidullin, is the first military prisoner from Afghanistan to appear in a U.S. federal court. He was arrested in November 2009 and held in Afghanistan by the U.S. Department of Defense.

A U.S. grand jury indicted Hamidullin last month on 12 charges stemming from the Nov. 29, 2009, attack on an Afghan police base. The charges include aiding terrorists, attempting to destroy a U.S. military aircraft and attempting to kill a U.S. citizen.

"I am not guilty," Hamidullin, who was shackled and flanked by U.S. marshals, told U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson in English.

Hamidullin, who prosecutors say is about 55, was assisted by a court-appointed Arabic translator. But when Hudson asked if he understood the proceedings he replied, "I understand everything."

Asked by the judge if he would answer questions truthfully, he said, "I will respond only in truth."

Hudson scheduled a five-day jury trial to start on April 13. The charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Defense attorneys agreed to waive a requirement for a speedy trial after prosecutors said the case likely would involve classified information, slowing proceedings.

According to the indictment, Hamidullin commanded the attack at the base in eastern Afghanistan and took part in it. It said he also planned to shoot down U.S. helicopters and fired on U.S. and Afghan personnel as they were assessing battle damage.

Hamidullin had been a Russian officer and tank commander in the early 1980s. He became a follower of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar in about 2001, the indictment said.

From about October 2009, he also took orders from Sirajuddin Haqqani, a commander in the Haqqani Network, a Taliban-linked Islamist group, the indictment said.

Hamidullin, sporting a goatee, requested that he be allowed to use the name Khamidullah in court. Hudson said he could use it but that it would be considered only an alias.

Hamidullin was handed over to FBI agents on Monday. While Congress has barred transfers of terrorism suspects from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the United States, there is no law blocking transfers of similar suspects from Afghanistan.

(Editing by Ian Simpson and Jim Loney)