A former tank commander in the Soviet military who later joined the Taliban and was captured in Afghanistan by the U.S. military appeared Tuesday in federal court in Richmond on terrorism charges after being flown to the United States.
Irek Ilgiz Hamidullin , who is believed to be about 55, faces a dozen terrorism-related charges, including conspiring to murder a U.S. national. He had been among a small number of non-Afghan prisoners held by the United States at a detention facility near Bagram air base.
This is the first time a foreign combatant captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan and held by the U.S. military at the Parwan detention facility has been transferred to the United States to face trial. The charges carry a potential maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
According to the indictment, unsealed Tuesday, the Russian was an insurgent leader, and participated in an November 2009 attack on coalition and Afghan forces in Khost province in eastern Afghanistan.
U.S. officials said Hamidullin worked with Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of a major insurgent group tied to the Taliban, before launching the attack on an Afghan border post known as Camp Leyza.
The Haqqani Network is a designated foreign terrorist organization, operating out of northwest Pakistan.
U.S. officials said Hamidullin did reconnaissance of the camp before launching the assault, directing three groups of heavily armed insurgents. The indictment says he planned to shoot down U.S. helicopters if they responded to the attack.
After the initial attack ended with a number of insurgents killed, Hamidullin fired on Afghan and U.S. forces who were doing a battle damage assessment, according to the indictment. He was captured and found to be carrying two grenades and an AK-47.
The indictment says Hamidullin served as a Soviet officer in the 1980s. While in the Soviet military, the indictment says, he received specialized training in the use of a large-caliber, anti-aircraft machine gun and a portable rocket launcher.
Much of his biography remains unknown, including what he did after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in the late 1980s and before the U.S. assault on the Taliban and al-Qaeda after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He is believed to have fought with the Taliban or allied groups since at least 2001.
The indictment did not contain Hamidullin’s real name or specify where in Russia he is from.
The United States had struggled with what to do with him as combat operations in Afghanistan neared an end, weighing whether he and the remaining 10 non-Afghan detainees at Parwan should be tried in a civilian or military court, or sent home.
In a news release, the Justice Department said Hamidullin was indicted Oct. 8, turned over to the FBI on Monday and then flown to the United States.
He is scheduled to be arraigned Friday in Richmond. Hamidullin’s lawyer did not immediately return a message left at his office.