RICHMOND, Va. (Reuters) - A former Soviet army officer accused of being a Taliban fighter was found guilty of terrorism charges on Friday by a federal jury in Richmond, Virginia, a court official said.
Irek Hamidullin, 55, a former Soviet tank commander who converted to Islam, faced 15 counts ranging from supporting terrorists to firearms charges stemming from his orchestration of a 2009 attack on an Afghan Border Police base in eastern Afghanistan’s Khost province.
He was the first military prisoner from Afghanistan to be tried in a U.S. federal court. The jury of seven men and five women deliberated more than eight hours before reaching their verdict.
Prosecutors portrayed Hamidullin as the mastermind of the attack whose goal was to lure U.S. troops into a trap and then pound them with heavy weapons and shoot down U.S. helicopters.
“He clearly was setting up for American forces he knew would respond,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney James Gillis.
Hamidullin faces a maximum penalty of life in prison when he is sentenced on Nov. 6.
His defense attorney had countered that there was insufficient proof that Hamidullin had intended to kill Americans.
Hamidullin was indicted by a federal grand jury in Virginia last year. The charges include ordering his men to set up a machine gun and a recoilless rifle to bring down U.S. military helicopters.
The jury heard testimony for a week and viewed evidence that included a battlefield videotape showing Afghan insurgents being raked by heavy fire from U.S. helicopter gunships.
About 30 insurgents died in the attack. No American or Afghan military personnel were killed, and no American helicopters were fired on.
Authorities say Hamidullin was the sole insurgent survivor of the attack and he received serious wounds to his hip and lower parts of his body. Hamidullin was brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair.
Prosecutors contended that Hamidullin planned the attack for months - receiving approval from the Taliban and Haqqani Network, recruiting fighters and acquiring weapons.
One major dispute at trial was whether Hamidullin fired his AK-47 rifle at U.S. and Afghan troops. Three soldiers testified that they either saw him raising the rifle to shoot or saw fire coming out of the rifle’s muzzle.
But an American marksman credited with bringing down Hamidullin said he never saw him fire his weapon.
A defense attorney for Hamidullin was not immediately available for comment on Friday evening.
Reporting by Gary Robertson; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Eric Beech