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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Court Affirms Conviction of Taliban Commander

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) - The Russian Taliban commander who led a 2009 attack on Afghan border police cannot overturn his guilty verdict, a federal judge ruled.

Jurors earlier this month found Irek Ilgiz Hamidullin guilty of 15 federal offenses in connection with the attack he allegedly strategized on Camp Leyza in eastern Afghanistan's Khost province.

Prosecutors said the former Russian tank commander was responsible for the group's artillery training prior to the attack.

He also initiated a subsequent attack on U.S. troops who came to aid of the border police, the indictment against him said.

In his defense, Hamidullin claimed he never intended to ambush American soldiers, and because he received permission from Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network officials to attack the camp, he should therefore be protected as a prisoner of war.

But expert testimony before and during the trial bolstered the government's position that both groups are notorious for terrorist acts.

"Neither the Taliban nor the Haqqani Network is a legitimate military organization that conducts its operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war," Judge Henry Hudson wrote in a Nov. 6 opinion.

"The defendant's band of insurgents, a schism known as Bulgars, was simply a group of ideologically-driven individuals acting in loose association with the Taliban," Hudson said. "To revisit the issue of lawful combatant status during trial would have exposed the jury to not only evidence of abuse of Afghan citizens, but also execution of prisoners and police officers by these organizations, kidnapping of journalists, and exchanging prisoners for ransom."

Hamidullin also claimed that because the Apache and Kiowa Warrior helicopters at Camp Leyza had no doors, they do not qualify as U.S. military aircrafts under the law.

"There is no reason to reject the jury's unanimous decision," Hudson wrote. "It is illogical to conclude that a helicopter flying at high speed several thousand feet in the air would not be an aircraft in flight - irrespective of whether it was equipped with doors."

Hamidullin's sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 3. He is represented by Robert James Wagner, a federal public defender.

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