Jury begins deliberations in trial of accused Taliban

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 07, 2015 3:07 PM

By Gary Robertson

RICHMOND, Va. (Reuters) - A U.S. jury on Friday began deliberating the fate of an alleged Russian Taliban fighter, the first military prisoner from Afghanistan to be tried in a U.S. federal court.

Irek Hamidullin, a former Soviet tank commander who converted to Islam, faces possible life in prison if convicted of 15 criminal counts in U.S. District Court.

The charges range from providing material support to terrorists to firearm offenses stemming from a November 2009 assault on an Afghan Border Police base in eastern Afghanistan's Khost province.

The jury of seven men and five women began deliberations after closing arguments from prosecutors and defense lawyers.

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

"He clearly was setting up for American forces he knew would respond," said Assistant U.S. Attorney James Gillis.

Proving that Hamidullin intended to kill Americans, and not just Afghan Border Police, is key to Hamidullin's trial in a U.S. court.

"The only way we get from Afghanistan (to a U.S. court) was that the goal was to kill American forces and destroy American helicopters. That's too much of a stretch," said Hamidullin attorney Paul Gill, a federal public defender.

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

The jury has been hearing testimony and viewing evidence for more than a week. The evidence included a battlefield videotape showing Afghan insurgents being raked by heavy fire from U.S. helicopter gunships.

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

Authorities say that Hamidullin was the sole insurgent survivor of the attack and he received serious wounds to his hip and lower parts of his body. Hamidullin, believed to be in his mid-50s, is brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair.

One major dispute is whether Hamidullin fired his AK-47 rifle at U.S. and Afghan troops. Three soldiers testified that they either saw him shooting the rifle or saw fire coming out of the rifle's muzzle.

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

(Reporting by Gary Robertson; Editing by Ian Simpson and Sandra Maler)