Ex-Soviet Officer Who Became Taliban Commander Found Guilty In U.S.

Aug 8, 2015
Originally published on August 8, 2015 1:46 pm

An ex-Soviet army officer turned Taliban commander has been found guilty in a federal court in Richmond, Va., on 15 counts related to a 2009 attack on Afghan and U.S. soldiers at Camp Leyza in Afghanistan's Khost province.

Irek Hamidullin, 55, is a former Soviet tank commander who stayed behind in Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal in the late 1980s.

He reportedly later converted to Islam and joined the Taliban militia. In 2009, he was seized as the only survivor in an attack on the Afghan base, where U.S. soldiers were also present. About 30 other insurgents were killed in the attack.

He was convicted late Friday on 15 counts ranging from aiding terrorists to firearms charges and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction. He is expected to be sentenced on Nov. 6 and faces a possible life sentence on some of the charges.

Hamidullin is the first military prisoner from Afghanistan to be tried in a U.S. federal court.

In his federal indictment, Hamidullin was said to have become a follower of Mullah Omar, the then head of the Afghan Taliban, in 2001, and "[at] least since in or about October 2009, the defendant communicated with and received instructions from Sirajuddin Haqqani, a leader of Taliban insurgents in and around Khowst Province, Afghanistan, and a commander in the Haqqani Network."

The indictment describes Hamidullin as the mastermind of the attack on the base.

But, according to Reuters:

"Hamidullin called off the assault after insurgents' weapons malfunctioned, and his roughly 30 men fell back, he told the FBI in a videotaped 2010 interview. Shortly afterward, U.S. reconnaissance and Apache attack helicopters swooped in.

"'Helicopters shoot us like insects,' Hamidullin said in the interview played for jurors in U.S. District Court. He was the sole Taliban survivor of the attack. No American or Afghan troops were killed."

Hamidullin, in more than a dozen interviews with the FBI after his capture, repeatedly insisted that he himself had never fired his AK-47 Kalashnikov rifle during the attack. "I got injured before I was able to shoot," he told interrogators, according to Reuters.

The jury took five days to reach a guilty verdict.

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