- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 19, 2003

FORT KNOX, Ky. (AP) — Soldiers began testifying by a video link yesterday from Iraq in a military hearing to determine whether a soldier will be court-martialed over a fatal grenade attack in Kuwait.

Sgt. Hasan K. Akbar, a 32-year-old Muslim, is accused of killing two officers and wounding 14 in the March 23 attack on a group of tents. Sgt. Akbar’s attorneys have not spoken publicly about the case.

The first witness, Capt. Dexter Mclendon, said he was awakened by a large noise that he thought was an accidental discharge of a weapon. He then heard two more explosions, the third of which was inside his tent. He fell to the ground inside the tent, then cut the tent to escape, Capt. Mclendon said.

Capt. Mclendon said he had problems sleeping for about a month after the incident, and things that would remind him of a grenade, such as a camera flash, would startle him.

As many as 23 persons were expected to testify yesterday via videoconference.

Staff Sgt. David Maier, an agent with the Criminal Investigation Division, testified Tuesday that he was briefed by a brigade commander, Col. Ben Hodges, who told him that Sgt. Akbar talked about the crime after being read his rights.

Col. Hodges said “Sergeant Akbar had made spontaneous statements related to the incident stating that he had done this act because we, or American soldiers, were going to kill and rape Muslims,” Sgt. Maier testified.

But when Sgt. Maier questioned Sgt. Akbar, Sgt. Akbar invoked his right to have counsel present and the interview ended, the investigator testified.

Sgt. Maier also said investigators found two incendiary grenades and one fragmentation grenade inside Sgt. Akbar’s gas mask case. Three empty grenade canisters and two grenade safety clips also were found inside a bag with Sgt. Akbar’s name on it, Sgt. Maier said.

Two other soldiers testified yesterday that they didn’t have faith in Sgt. Akbar’s abilities as a soldier.

“He was really incompetent in his leadership ability,” said Sgt. David Walter. Sgt. First Class Daniel Kumm said he hadn’t wanted Sgt. Akbar to go to Iraq with his unit because of “his inability to lead soldiers and incompetence in abilities and skills.”

Testimony from two witnesses Tuesday cast doubt on the identity of the killer of one of the victims, Army Capt. Christopher Scott Seifert, 27, of Easton, Pa., who was fatally shot.

Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Burns said he saw Capt. Seifert run out of his tent and fall to the ground, and said he saw two muzzle flashes, including one off to his right. “It had to come from a different shooter,” he said.

Sgt. Burns also said he told investigators that a man in a brown T-shirt and desert camouflage whom he saw behind Capt. Seifert was “absolutely not” Sgt. Akbar.

First Sgt. Rodlon Stevenson testified he saw a man in the same clothing described by Sgt. Burns shoot Capt. Seifert. Sgt. Stevenson said the shooter appeared to be smaller than Sgt. Akbar, and said Sgt. Akbar and the shooter were dressed differently.

Also killed in the attack was Air Force Maj. Gregory Stone, 40, of Boise, Idaho.

The Article 32 hearing is similar to a civilian grand jury. If convicted at a court-martial, Sgt. Akbar could face the death penalty.

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