Russian Taliban fighter charged in U.S. civilian court

Irek Ilgiz Hamidullin, a Russian Taliban fighter captured 5 years ago, is charged in U.S. federal court

A Russian member of the Taliban who was captured by U.S. forces five years ago in eastern Afghanistan was named Tuesday in an indictment charging him with coordinating attacks on U.S. troops and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction.

Irek Ilgiz Hamidullin appeared in federal court in Richmond, Va., in a case that expands the Obama administration's record of bringing terrorism suspects into civilian courts, not military tribunals.

His case marks the first time a military detainee from Afghanistan has been brought to the United States to stand trial. It amplifies White House determination to try terrorism cases in civilian courts, defying Republican demands to use a military commission at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

U.S. military authorities in Afghanistan turned Hamidullin over to the FBI on Monday, and agents then flew him to Virginia.

Hamidullin served as a Soviet army tank commander in Afghanistan against U.S.-backed mujahedin fighters in the 1980s, according to the indictment. The Soviet forces withdrew in defeat in 1989.

U.S. officials say Hamidullin stayed behind and later became a senior Taliban commander who helped orchestrate attacks on U.S. forces and allies in Afghanistan after the American-led invasion in 2001.

Federal prosecutors said they would not seek the death penalty against Hamidullin, who is believed to be in his mid-50s. He appeared in court in an orange jail jumpsuit, his hands and arms chained to his waist.

He told U.S. Magistrate Judge David Novak that he understood the 12 charges against him. He will be arraigned Friday.

The 19-page indictment, filed on Oct. 8 and unsealed Tuesday, includes charges of conspiring to kill U.S. citizens, attempting to destroy U.S. aircraft and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction.

The indictment alleges that he and others in November 2009 plotted in Afghanistan to use a "destructive device," which it did not identify, to kill U.S. citizens. The charges say "death resulted" but provide no details.

Prosecutors said Hamidullin became a follower of now-fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and rose up the ranks of Islamic militant groups. "The defendant was the main commander of these groups of insurgents," the indictment said.

In November 2009, the indictment said, insurgents under Hamidullin's command attacked an Afghan border police post at Camp Leyza in Khowst province. He allegedly used a radio to direct militants armed with machine guns and antiaircraft weapons to fire at U.S. military helicopters that responded to the attack.

During a subsequent U.S. assessment of the battle, Hamidullin single-handedly attacked U.S. and Afghan forces with an AK-47 automatic rifle and two grenades, the indictment said.

After his capture, he was held for five years at the Parwan detention facility near the Bagram air base outside Kabul, the capital.

The Hamidullin case comes three weeks after Ahmed Abu Khatallah, the suspected ringleader in the 2012 assault on a U.S. diplomatic compound and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya, was brought into federal court in Washington, despite Republicans' demands that he be tried at Guantanamo.

In a statement, National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said hundreds of terrorism suspects had been convicted in U.S. courts since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"The effective use of the criminal justice system has resulted in the interrogation, conviction and detention of citizens and noncitizens alike for acts of terrorism," she said.

Meehan said one factor in the decision to move Hamidullin to Virginia was that the Afghan government would take responsibility for all detention facilities, including Parwan, on Feb. 1 as the U.S. military draws down its troops.

richard.serrano@latimes.com

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