Friday, June 20, 2003

FORT KNOX, Ky. — An investigating officer yesterday recommended the court-martial of the soldier charged in a grenade attack that killed two officers in Kuwait days before troops were to move into Iraq.

Sgt. Hasan Akbar had time to get the grenades used in the attack against the 101st Airborne, and his rifle killed one of the officers, Col. Patrick Reinert testified at the hearing to determine whether Sgt. Akbar should face a military trial. Fourteen soldiers were wounded in the March 23 attack.

“There are reasonable grounds to believe the accused committed the offensive charges,” Col. Reinert said. “This was a surprise attack executed by stealth.”

Col. Reinert said a leg injury Sgt. Akbar suffered linked him to the attack scene, as did a fingerprint on a generator outside one of the three tents attacked.

Sgt. Akbar’s attorney argued that no eyewitnesses placed the soldier at the scene, and that other soldiers unduly assumed he committed the crime because he is Muslim.

“Nobody, not one witness, can say they saw Sgt. Akbar throw a grenade or fire a weapon,” Lt. Col. Victor Hansen said.

Sgt. Akbar, 32, did not testify. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

Col. Reinert’s recommendation will go to Sgt. Akbar’s battalion commander, Lt. Col. Peter DeLuca of the 326th Engineer Battalion, and eventually to Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, commanding general of the 101st. Maj. Trey Cate, spokesman for the 101st, said he does not know when Col. DeLuca — who is in Iraq — will make a decision.

The attack in the early days of the war in Iraq shocked soldiers and their families.

Prosecuting attorney Capt. Harper Cook said Sgt. Akbar stole seven grenades from a Humvee he was guarding, then walked to the brigade operations area an hour later to attack the officers.

“He selected the weapons. He pulled the pins. He threw the grenades and he shot Maj. [Kenneth] Romaine with his rifle.” Maj. Romaine was wounded in both hands and his left thigh by a gunshot in the attack, Capt. Cook testified.

He said the evidence showed Sgt. Akbar’s weapon was used to kill Army Capt. Christopher Scott Seifert, 27, of Easton, Pa. Air Force Maj. Gregory Stone, 40, of Boise, Idaho, also was killed.

His attack plan “was well-thought out and executed with military precision,” Capt. Cook said.

Capt. Cook said Sgt. Akbar was injured during the attack, but chose not to seek treatment because he wanted to blend in with other soldiers.

Col. Hansen pointed out that two soldiers testified that they had told investigators that Sgt. Akbar was not the man they saw shoot Capt. Seifert. One witness said he saw a second shot fired that he thought came from a second shooter.

Col. Hansen said soldiers on the ground were too quick to assume — as soon as it was reported that Sgt. Akbar was missing — that he committed the crime because he is Muslim.

“The Muslim portion is important,” Col. Hansen said. “That’s the theory they ran with.”

Col. Hansen said the probe was tainted when Col. Ben Hodges, the brigade commander, told the arriving investigator that a soldier had confessed to the crime because he said American soldiers were going to rape and kill Muslims in Iraq.

Col. Hodges testified by video teleconference from Mosul, Iraq, on Thursday that two Kuwaiti interpreters were detained immediately after the attack, but soon he received word that Sgt. Akbar and grenades he had been guarding could not be accounted for.

“By the time the sun’s coming up, I was pretty well convinced it was one of our soldiers,” said Col. Hodges, who suffered shrapnel wounds in his arm in the attack.

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