By Gary Robertson
RICHMOND, Va. (Reuters) - The unprecedented trial of a former Soviet army officer accused of being a Taliban fighter in Afghanistan began on Thursday in U.S. District Court with a jury being selected.
Irek Hamidullin, believed to be in his 50s, is the first military prisoner from Afghanistan to be tried in a federal court. He faces 15 counts ranging from supporting terrorists to firearms charges stemming from a 2009 attack on an Afghan Border Police base in eastern Afghanistan.
A jury of nine men and six women, including three alternates, were selected from a 130-member pool, a court clerk said. Reporters were barred from the selection process, and opening arguments are scheduled for Friday.
Before selection started, Judge Henry Hudson rejected a request by Hamidullin's lawyers for a continuance. They had said that evidence turned over by the Defense Department on Saturday, including video shot from a helicopter, was still being reviewed.
They also said U.S. prosecutors had produced witnesses they had not heard of before. Hudson said he would allow motions on the witnesses once trial started.
Hamidullin, a former officer and tank commander for the Soviet Union in the early 1980s, was indicted by a grand jury in October 2014.
Pre-trial hearings and motions have centered on whether Hamidullin could be tried in the United States for actions as an insurgent in Afghanistan. Hudson last month rejected a motion by Hamidullin's attorneys to throw out the indictment.
Hamidullin is charged with ordering his men to set up a machine gun and a recoilless rifle to fire on U.S. military helicopters. After the attack failed, Hamidullin opened fire on Afghan and U.S. forces with a machine gun, prosecutors said.
He was wounded and captured as the sole Taliban survivor of the assault. No Americans or Afghan security personnel were killed.
The charges against Hamidullin also include attempting to destroy a U.S. military aircraft, conspiracy and attempting to kill a U.S. official.
Federal public defenders are representing Hamidullin and the trial has been scheduled to last five days. He faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted.
(Writing by Ian Simpson; Editing by Lisa Lambert)