Russian charged in Afghan attack makes U.S. court appearance

By Ian Simpson WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former Russian army officer facing terrorism charges for a 2009 attack on U.S. and Afghan forces made an initial appearance in federal court on Tuesday, the first military detainee from Afghanistan to appear in a U.S. federal court. The suspect, Irek Ilgiz Hamidullin, was arrested in November 2009 and held in Afghanistan by the U.S. Department of Defense. He was turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Monday, the U.S. Justice Department said in a statement. A grand jury last month indicted Hamidullin, who the statement said was about 55, on 12 counts including aiding terrorists, attempting to destroy a U.S. military aircraft, and attempting to kill a U.S. citizen. The U.S. Congress, hoping to prevent the Obama administration from closing the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, has barred transfers of terrorism suspects from there to the United States. But there is no similar law stopping transfers of similar suspects from Afghanistan. Advocates for closing the Guantanamo prison said Hamidullin's case underscored that federal courts, not the military tribunal at the navy base, are the right venue for such trials. They noted that federal courts have completed nearly 500 terrorism-related cases since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, while military authorities have convicted only eight suspects. The charges against Hamidullin stem from a Nov. 29, 2009, attack on Afghan police at Camp Leyza, in Khost province on Afghanistan's eastern border with Pakistan. The indictment said Hamidullin commanded three groups of insurgents in the attack and took part in it. He also planned to shoot down U.S. military helicopters, it said. U.S. and Afghan forces killed several insurgents during the assault. Hamidullin fired on U.S. and Afghan personnel as they were assessing battle damage, the indictment said. Hamidullin was appointed a federal public defender during the hearing in U.S. District Court in Richmond, Virginia. He was ordered held before arraignment on Friday, court documents said. Hamidullin had been a Russian officer and tank commander in the early 1980s. He became a follower of Mullah Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, in about 2001, the indictment said. From about October 2009, he also took orders from Sirajuddin Haqqani, a Taliban leader and a commander in the Haqqani Network, a Taliban-linked Islamist group, the indictment said. The charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison, the statement said. Hamidullin's lead attorney, public defender Rob Wagner, declined to comment. A spokesman for the Russian Embassy were not immediately available to comment. (Reporting by Ian Simpson, additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Doina Chiacu and David Gregorio)