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Trial Of Russian Army Officer-Turned-Taliban Begins In U.S.

  • RFE/RL

A jury was selected July 30 in the case of a Russian military officer charged with leading a Taliban attack on U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Irek Hamidullin faces 15 counts, including providing material support to terrorism and trying to kill a U.S. military officer. Opening statements are set for July 31 in a trial in Richmond, Virginia, that is expected to last five days.

The case is one of the latest examples of the Obama administration's effort to show it can use the U.S. criminal court system to deal with terror suspects -- a move criticized by some lawmakers who believe such cases should be handled by military tribunals.

U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson, who is presiding over the case, has rejected Hamidullin's claim that he is a prisoner of war and therefore not subject to prosecution in U.S. civilian courts.

According to prosecutors, Hamidullin is a Russian veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan who stayed in the country and joined the Haqqani Network, a Taliban-affiliated militant group.

He allegedly led three groups of insurgents in a 2009 attack on Afghan border police in Khost Province. When U.S. helicopters responded to the attack, prosecutors say, the insurgents tried to fire at them with antiaircraft weapons, which malfunctioned.

The insurgents were virtually wiped out, while the coalition forces sustained no casualties.

The government says that when coalition forces later tried to conduct a battle damage assessment, Hamidullin fired at them with a machine gun. Hamidullin was wounded by return fire and was captured and held at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan until last year, when he was brought to the United States for trial.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder chose not to seek the death penalty for a charge of using a weapon of mass destruction.

Other charges against Hamidullin, a former Soviet tank commander, include attempting to destroy a U.S. military aircraft and conspiracy. Several of the charges are punishable by up to life in prison.

He is being represented by federal public defenders.

With reporting by Reuters and AP
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