Russian Taliban Fighter Sentenced to Life in Prison in Terrorism Case

A former Soviet army tank commander, who was convicted of leading an attack on U.S. troops and Afghan border police officers in 2009, was sentenced in a U.S. federal court to serve life plus 30 years in prison, according to the Department of Justice on Thursday.

Irek Hamidullin is noteworthy since he is the first military prisoner from Afghan war  to be tried in a U.S. federal court. The 55-year-old was captured following an attack and was held for five years at Bagram airbase, before being extradited to the U.S. to stand trial in the U.S. Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

According to the FBI, this is a photo of the Russian Taliban leader with some of his Taliban unit.
According to the FBI, this is a photo of the Russian Taliban leader with some of his Taliban unit.

During his sentencing, he told the court that he had the right to defend himself against “American aggressors” who had invaded Afghanistan. “You accuse me of terrorism. That is a lie. I am doing what Jesus Christ told us to do,” said Hamidullin, who appeared pale and thin after being brought into court in a wheelchair.

“I do not acknowledge your law. I do not acknowledge this court. I despise it,” he said.

“Irek Hamidullin has been sentenced to life in prison for his role in orchestrating and conducting a violent attack on Afghan and U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2009, and conspiring to kill members of the U.S. military,” said Assistant Attorney General John Carlin.  “Hamidullin was captured and detained by the U.S. military in Afghanistan and brought to the United States for trial.  This case once again demonstrates our resolve to find and bring to justice, using all available tools, those who target U.S. citizens and interests around the world.”

“Few crimes could be more serious than this one,” said U.S. Attorney Dana Boente.  “In a well-planned, deliberate, and premeditated attack, Hamidullin led an assault upon an Afghan outpost by a group of insurgents, many of whom he recruited and trained, with the intent to kill Afghan Border Police and responding American forces,” Boente said..

“Hamidullin is a charismatic proselytizer of the radical views that animate Islamist violence such as that perpetrated by the Taliban and the Haqqani Network upon Americans and Afghans – civilian and military targets alike – especially in 2009 when this attack took place.  He not only has the will to do violence himself, but perhaps more dangerously, has the ability and the desire to enlist others to engage in violence.  Today’s sentence of life in prison will fulfill our need to protect the public, and will hopefully serve as a deterrent to others contemplating engaging in such actions.  I want to commend our trial team and investigating partners for their terrific work in this case,” the veteran prosecutor told reporters.

“The sentence imposed today on the defendant Hamidullin for masterminding an attack on U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan serves as a reminder of the global reach and determination of the FBI to exact justice through the American legal system,” said FBI Assistant Director in Charge Paul Abbate.  “The FBI, together with our partners in the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Department of Defense, will continue to relentlessly pursue any person who commits acts of terrorism or supports terrorist organizations targeting American troops, citizens, or interests.”

According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, “Hamidullin had contact with high-level Taliban and Haqqani Network personnel.  On Nov. 28, 2009, Hamidullin led a group of fighters in an attack on a border outpost known as Camp Leyza, located in the Khost Province of Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan.  He had planned the attack for months; received approval from the Taliban and Haqqani Network; recruited other fighters; and acquired weapons for the attack, including IED’s, heavy machine guns and a shoulder-fired rocket, with the intent of shooting down U.S. helicopters responding to the attack.”

According to evidence presented at trial:

“On the night of Nov. 28, 2009, Hamidullin and his fighters initiated their attack with an assault on Camp Leyza.  Soon after the attack began, two U.S. Army helicopters responded to Camp Leyza, just as Hamidullin anticipated from his months of planning and reconnaissance.  Military witnesses testified at trial that it was a common tactic for insurgents at the time to attack an Afghan position intending to draw in and ambush their real target, the responding U.S. forces.

“Hamidullin positioned himself on a nearby hill, away from his fighters, where he had a clear view of the battlefield and could radio orders to his fighters.  As the helicopters approached, he ordered his fighters to fire the anti-aircraft weapons he had strategically placed in the area.  Both weapons malfunctioned and the helicopters were not fired upon.  After the heavy weapons failed to fire, Hamidullin ordered his fighters to pack up their weapons and other gear and return to Pakistan.  U.S. military helicopters in the area observed the insurgents “bounding back” in an organized military fashion.  Thereafter, a U.S. aircraft spotted the insurgents attempting to set an ambush for the approaching U.S. and Afghan forces.  Once the aircraft confirmed that the insurgents were carrying Kalashnikov machine guns and rocket propelled grenade launchers, the U.S. helicopters were given approval to engage the insurgents.  U.S. forces ultimately identified and eliminated approximately 20 of Hamidullin’s fighters.

“The next morning, as U.S. and Afghan forces were conducting a battle damage assessment, Hamidullin was found hiding on the battlefield.  Hamidullin opened fire on the U.S. forces with a Kalashnikov machine gun, but was wounded and captured after a brief firefight.  U.S. military personnel testified during the trial that the insurgents were remarkably well-equipped and in addition to the heavy weapons, they were also carrying, for example, GPS devices and $400 military-style watches.  During the battle damage assessment, U.S. military personnel found, among other weapons carried by the insurgents, three 50 caliber anti-aircraft machine guns, 82 millimeter recoilless rifles and scores of smaller weapons and grenades.  The insurgents were also carrying all the materials necessary to construct three different kinds of improvised explosive devices, which were all of the kind that had been used by insurgents against U.S. forces operating at that time in Khowst Province.”




Jim Kouri, CPP, is founder and CEO of Kouri Associates, a homeland security, public safety and political consulting firm. He's formerly Fifth Vice-President, now a Board Member of the National Association of Chiefs of Police, a columnist, and a contributor to the nationally syndicated talk-radio program, the Chuck Wilder Show.. He's former chief of police at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at St. Peter's University and director of security for several major organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country.

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