German court sentences US airmen's killer to life

AP News
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Posted: Feb 10, 2012 12:44 PM
German court sentences US airmen's killer to life

An Islamic extremist who killed two U.S. airmen in an attack at Frankfurt airport last year was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison Friday.

Arid Uka, 22, was also convicted of attempted murder and serious bodily harm for wounding two other servicemen and for taking aim at a third before his 9mm pistol jammed.

Uka killed Senior Airman Nicholas J. Alden, 25, from South Carolina, and Airman 1st Class Zachary R. Cuddeback, 21, from Virginia in the March 2 attack on an Air Force security team headed for Afghanistan as its members boarded a bus at the airport.

Staff Sgt. Kristoffer Schneider survived devastating injuries from a head wound. Another airman, Edgar Veguilla, was hit in the jaw and arm.

Judge Thomas Sagebiel ruled at the state court in Frankfurt that the circumstances of the killing mean Uka bears "particularly severe guilt."

That means he won't immediately be eligible for parole after 15 years as is usual in Germany, but must wait several more years for his behavior and possibility for rehabilitation to be reviewed.

Life sentences without a chance for parole are not possible under German law.

In his ruling, Sagebiel cited the fact that Uka shot unarmed people _ from behind in Alden's case _ and the severity of the injuries and disabilities suffered by Schneider and Veguilla.

Sagebiel also noted that only the pistol's malfunction kept Uka from killing several more people trapped on the bus.

Uka, brought to court in a dark hooded sweat shirt and black sweater, smiled and chatted with his lawyers before and after the sentence was announced. He then sat with his eyes closed and his head down as the judge detailed his reasoning.

Nicholas Alden's brother, Joe Alden of Indianapolis, Indiana, told journalists afterward he felt that the maximum sentence possible meant that "justice has been served. I wish there was more they could do, but he got the maximum."

Uka briefly met Alden's gaze in the courtroom but looked away, he said. "He couldn't look me in the eye, and that's what a coward does."

"I'm satisfied. I'm at peace. There's a huge weight off our shoulders," Alden said.

His sister, Kelseyanne Alden of Calhoun Falls, South Carolina, said she was "disgusted at the way he smiled in the courtroom.

"It's like a joke to him. It's not a joke to us," she said. "We lost our brother." Alden also left behind a widow and two small children.

Prosecutors said Uka, an ethnic Albanian born in Kosovo who grew up in Germany, was an example of a lone-wolf extremist who became radicalized on his own by reading and watching jihadist propaganda on the Internet. During the trial, they introduced as evidence dozens of files containing songs and written material pulled from his cell phone, music player and computer.

Uka, who worked as a temporary mail sorter at the airport, testified that he wanted to stop U.S. service personnel from going to Afghanistan after viewing a video on Facebook that purported to show American soldiers raping a teenage Muslim girl. It turned out to be a scene from the 2007 Brian De Palma anti-war film "Redacted," taken out of context.

Although Germany has experienced scores of terrorist attacks in past decades, largely from leftist groups like the Red Army Faction, the airport attack was the first attributed to an Islamic extremist.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, there have been about a half-dozen other jihadist plots that were either thwarted or failed _ including a 2007 plan to kill Americans at the U.S. Air Force's Ramstein Air Base.

The airmen at Frankfurt airport were part of a security team traveling from an air base at Lakenheath in Britain.

As they loaded their bus in front of the airport, Uka approached the soldiers and asked for a cigarette, then asked if the group was headed for Afghanistan. Told that it was, Uka pulled a pistol from his backpack and shot the unarmed Alden in the back of the head from 1.5 meters (4 feet) away.

He boarded the bus and killed Cuddeback, the driver, before turning the gun on Schneider and Veguilla. The weapon jammed as he pointed it at Staff Sgt. Trevor Brewer, who testified that Uka had "hate in his eyes" and said "Allahu akbar" _ Arabic for "God is great."

Schneider, who testified by video link from an Air Force base in Grand Forks, North Dakota, was shot in the right temple and lost the sight in one eye. The right side of his face had to be rebuilt with titanium and titanium mesh, and he testified he suffers continuing eye and head pain and has had a seizure. Part of his skull above the right temple had to be removed during treatment.

(This version CORRECTS Corrects spelling of name to Kelseyanne Alden, not Kelsey Anne. AP Video.)