Russian Taliban fighter pleads ‘not guilty’ in US Court

Russian Taliban fighter pleads ‘not guilty’ in US Court
A suspected Russian Taliban commander pleaded “not guilty” in a Virginia courtroom to terrorism charges for a 2009 attack on American and Afghan forces. The judge has set the trial for April 2015.

The defendant, Irek Ilgiz Hamidullin, is the first military prisoner from Afghanistan to appear in a US federal court. A US grand jury indicted Russian citizen Hamidullin last month on 12 charges of terrorism, and conspiracy for an attack on an Afghan police base during the war. The charges include aiding terrorists, attempting to destroy a US military aircraft, and attempting to kill a US citizen. The defendant was arrested in November 2009 and held in an unnamed Afghan facility for five years.

I am not guilty,” Hamidullin told US District Court Judge Henry Hudson in English, reported Reuters.

Hudson scheduled a five-day jury trial to start on April 13, 2015. The defendant faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

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The defendant was shackled and stood flanked by US marshals in court. Hamidullin was a former Russian army officer and tank commander in the early 1980s before he became a follower of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar in about 2001, according to the indictment.

He worked alongside the Taliban from 2001 through 2009 and at times “was the main commander” of insurgent groups that targeted US military bases and soldiers.

In a statement from the Justice Department’s Office of Public Affairs, military officials turned Hamidullin over to the FBI on Monday this week when he was brought to the US to face charges, making him the first enemy combatant ever to be brought from Afghanistan to face charges in a civilian court.

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Congress has barred transfers of terrorism suspects from the prison complex at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the United States, but there is no law blocking transfers for suspects from Afghanistan.

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The US continues to imprison an unknown number of detainees at secret prisons in Afghanistan, according to the Justice Project Pakistan group, but an agreement between the American and Afghan governments means control of those facilities will be turned over to local authorities effective 2015.

National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan told the AP the decision to transfer Hamidullin was directly linked to an impending deadline that will require the US to turn all Afghan prisons over to local authorities by the end of the year, when America’s combat operation there formally ends.