Jordanian soldier sentenced to life in prison in killing of three U.S. military trainers

A Jordanian soldier was convicted Monday in the slaying of three U.S. military trainers last year and sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labor, Jordan’s official news agency said.

A military court in Amman handed a guilty verdict to Maarek Abu Tayeh, a guard who in November shot and killed the three Army Green Berets when their convoy approached the gate of the King Faisal airbase in the Jafr area.

The U.S. soldiers killed were Staff Sgt. James Moriarty, 27, of Kerrville, Texas; Staff Sgt. Kevin McEnroe, 30, of Tucson; and Staff Sgt. Matthew Lewellen, 27, of Kirksville, Mo.

Abu Tayeh opened fire with his M-16 rifle at the convoy’s lead vehicle after it had cleared the first security gate, instantly killing McEnroe and mortally wounding Lewellen, according to a redacted report issued by U.S. Special Operations Command in March.

A six-minute hunt followed with Abu Tayeh stalking Moriarty and another Green Beret, according to the Special Operations Command’s report.

Moriarty got off one shot at Abu Tayeh before the Jordanian approached him and shot him twice, but his actions, the report said, “enabled the remaining soldier to maneuver and engage” Abu Tayeh, wounding him in the neck. Moriarty later succumbed to his wounds.

Jordan is a major U.S. ally in the region. The Green Berets had been training Syrian rebels at the airbase as part of a U.S.-led effort to create an anti-Islamic State force in Syria.

Abu Tayeh insisted he was not guilty, saying in court hearings that he had heard gunshots, which had spurred him to open fire. It was unclear why other Jordanian guards did not stop Abu Tayeh.

Moriarty’s father, Jim Moriarty, said in a phone interview Monday that he considered Abu Tayeh’s conduct deliberate in killing his son and the other two soldiers, though no definitive link to terrorist groups was found.

The life sentence "was the best result that we were going to get under the circumstances,” Moriarty said. “I will tell you that I would have been perfectly happy to watch him hang.”

The incident has been a source of tension in Jordan. Abu Tayeh, who is a member of the influential Howeitat tribe, was seen by many to be a hero who was “defending his homeland, himself, and military honor,” according to a statement issued by the tribe Monday.

Tribal members blocked some of the major transit highways in the kingdom with burning tires in protest.

Bulos is a special correspondent.

Twitter: @nabihbulos

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