Most of these posts concern fact patterns involving would-be foreign fighters, or persons who provide support to terrorist organizations. Here, in contrast, we have a former Russian army officer who fought against US forces in Afghanistan, was captured and held there, and then brought to US for civilian prosecution as US detention ops in Afghanistan were wound down. (My Lawfare post on this at the time is here: http://goo.gl/74Aj9B). Today he got a life sentence for his unprivileged combat actions. Press release below:
WASHINGTON – Irek Ilgiz Hamidullin, 55, a Russian national and former Russian army tank commander, was sentenced today to life plus 30 years in prison for conspiring to shoot down American helicopters and to kill U.S. and Afghan soldiers, conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction and several other charges relating to an attack that he led against U.S. and Afghan forces in Afghanistan in November 2009.
Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente of the Eastern District of Virginia and Assistant Director in Charge Paul Abbate of the FBI’s Washington, D.C., Field Office made the announcement after sentencing by U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson of the Eastern District of Virginia.
“Irek Hamidullin has been sentenced to life in prison for his role in orchestrating and conducting a violent attack on Afghan and U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2009, and conspiring to kill members of the U.S. military,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin. “Hamidullin was captured and detained by the U.S. military in Afghanistan and brought to the United States for trial. This case once again demonstrates our resolve to find and bring to justice, using all available tools, those who target U.S. citizens and interests around the world.”
“Few crimes could be more serious than this one,” said U.S. Attorney Boente. “In a well-planned, deliberate, and premeditated attack, Hamidullin led an assault upon an Afghan outpost by a group of insurgents, many of whom he recruited and trained, with the intent to kill Afghan Border Police and responding American forces. Hamidullin is a charismatic proselytizer of the radical views that animate Islamist violence such as that perpetrated by the Taliban and the Haqqani Network upon Americans and Afghans – civilian and military targets alike – especially in 2009 when this attack took place. He not only has the will to do violence himself, but perhaps more dangerously, has the ability and the desire to enlist others to engage in violence. Today’s sentence of life in prison will fulfill our need to protect the public, and will hopefully serve as a deterrent to others contemplating engaging in such actions. I want to commend our trial team and investigating partners for their terrific work in this case.”
“The sentence imposed today on the defendant Hamidullin for masterminding an attack on U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan serves as a reminder of the global reach and determination of the FBI to exact justice through the American legal system,” said Assistant Director in Charge Abbate. “The FBI, together with our partners in the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Department of Defense, will continue to relentlessly pursue any person who commits acts of terrorism or supports terrorist organizations targeting American troops, citizens, or interests.”
On Aug. 7, 2015, a federal jury convicted Hamidullin of all 15 counts of the second superseding indictment, which included charges of material support to terrorists, attempted murder of U.S. military personnel, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and possession of a firearm in connection with a crime of violence. According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, Hamidullin had contact with high-level Taliban and Haqqani Network personnel. On Nov. 28, 2009, Hamidullin led a group of fighters in an attack on a border outpost known as Camp Leyza, located in the Khost Province of Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan. He had planned the attack for months; received approval from the Taliban and Haqqani Network; recruited other fighters; and acquired weapons for the attack, including IED’s, heavy machine guns and a shoulder-fired rocket, with the intent of shooting down U.S. helicopters responding to the attack.
According to evidence presented at trial, on the night of Nov. 28, 2009, Hamidullin and his fighters initiated their attack with an assault on Camp Leyza. Soon after the attack began, two U.S. Army helicopters responded to Camp Leyza, just as Hamidullin anticipated from his months of planning and reconnaissance. Military witnesses testified at trial that it was a common tactic for insurgents at the time to attack an Afghan position intending to draw in and ambush their real target, the responding U.S. forces.
Hamidullin positioned himself on a nearby hill, away from his fighters, where he had a clear view of the battlefield and could radio orders to his fighters. As the helicopters approached, he ordered his fighters to fire the anti-aircraft weapons he had strategically placed in the area. Both weapons malfunctioned and the helicopters were not fired upon. After the heavy weapons failed to fire, Hamidullin ordered his fighters to pack up their weapons and other gear and return to Pakistan. U.S. military helicopters in the area observed the insurgents “bounding back” in an organized military fashion. Thereafter, a U.S. aircraft spotted the insurgents attempting to set an ambush for the approaching U.S. and Afghan forces. Once the aircraft confirmed that the insurgents were carrying Kalashnikov machine guns and rocket propelled grenade launchers, the U.S. helicopters were given approval to engage the insurgents. U.S. forces ultimately identified and eliminated approximately 20 of Hamidullin’s fighters.
The next morning, as U.S. and Afghan forces were conducting a battle damage assessment, Hamidullin was found hiding on the battlefield. Hamidullin opened fire on the U.S. forces with a Kalashnikov machine gun, but was wounded and captured after a brief firefight. U.S. military personnel testified during the trial that the insurgents were remarkably well-equipped and in addition to the heavy weapons, they were also carrying, for example, GPS devices and $400 military-style watches. During the battle damage assessment, U.S. military personnel found, among other weapons carried by the insurgents, three 50 caliber anti-aircraft machine guns, 82 millimeter recoilless rifles and scores of smaller weapons and grenades. The insurgents were also carrying all the materials necessary to construct three different kinds of improvised explosive devices, which were all of the kind that had been used by insurgents against U.S. forces operating at that time in Khowst Province.
This case was investigated by the FBI’s Washington, D.C., Field Office. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney James P. Gillis and former U.S. Attorney Michael Gill of the Eastern District of Virginia and Trial Attorney Jennifer E. Levy of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.