Detainee brought from Afghanistan to U.S. for trial for 1st time
RICHMOND — A Russian member of the Taliban made his first appearance Tuesday in a federal court in Virginia, marking the first time a military detainee from Afghanistan has been brought to the United States for trial.
Irek Hamidullin’s appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge David Novak represents the Obama administration’s latest attempt to show that it can use the criminal court system to deal with terror suspects. His arraignment on 12 terrorism charges has been set for Friday morning before U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson, a former federal prosecutor.
U.S. officials say Hamidullin is a Russian veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan who stayed in the country and joined the Taliban. He was captured in 2009 after an attack on Afghan border police and U.S. soldiers in Khowst province. He had been held at the U.S. Parwan detention facility at Bagram airfield before being brought to the United States.
Among the charges against Hamidullin in an indictment unsealed Tuesday are providing material support to terrorists, conspiracy and attempt to destroy an aircraft of the armed forces and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction. The “mass destruction” charge carries a possible death sentence, but Assistant U.S. Attorney James Gillis said the Attorney General’s Office is not seeking death, citing insufficient aggravating factors. Several counts are punishable by up to life in prison.
Hamidullin, shackled and heavily guarded by federal agents, said little during his initial appearance, where Novak advised him of his rights and asked whether the defendant understood the charges. Federal public defender Robert Wagner and attorney Claire Cardwell were appointed to represent him.
According to the 19-page indictment, Hamidullin was an officer and tank commander in the Russian military during the 1980s and was trained in the use of such weapons as anti-aircraft machine guns and portable rockets. He became affiliated with the Taliban in 2001.
The indictment says Hamidullin commanded three groups of terrorists that attacked Afghan Border Police at Camp Leyza, one of six locations the Taliban had identified as possible targets. He directed terrorists armed with anti-aircraft machine guns to fire at U.S. military helicopters responding to the attack, the indictment says, and used a machine gun to shoot at U.S. troops and Afghan border police assessing damage at the battle site.