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Friday, April 4

Akbar charged with murder

By Leon Alligood | The Tennessean

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. - Sgt. Hasan K. Akbar, a soldier assigned to the 326th Engineering Battalion of the 101st Airborne Division, has officially been charged with two counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder for a grenade and shooting attack in Kuwait on March 23.

The charges, known as ``specifications'' in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, were released Friday by Fort Campbell, but were made official on March 25, two days after the attack at 1st Brigade headquarters at Camp Pennsylvania.

Killed in the attack were Capt. Chris Seifert of the 1st Brigade, also known as the 327th Infantry Regiment, and Air Force Maj. Gregory Stone. The Air Force officer was serving as a liaison to the 101st Airborne.

Following the attack, the Army said 13 other soldiers were injured in the incident, where Akbar allegedly rolled grenades into officers' tents and shot two of them as they rushed out. A statement issued late Friday by the Fort Campbell Public Affairs Office offered no explanation why there were 17 counts of attempted murder.

The sergeant is also charged with ``aggravated arson of an inhabited dwelling'' and ``misbehavior as a sentinel while receiving special pay.''

According to the statement, the investigation by the Army Criminal Investigation Command continues. The sergeant is being held at an undisclosed military installation in the United States. Post officials previously indicated, however, that Akbar would likely return to Fort Campbell for a court martial, if one is held.

Under court martial rules, Akbar could face the death penalty or a significant jail term if found guilty.

Meanwhile, Akbar has been appointed a lawyer by the U.S. Army Trial Defense Service, but the military legal counsel was not identified by post officials. Under military justice rules, the accused sergeant also has the right to retain a civilian defense attorney at his own expense.

According to the statement from the Fort Campbell public affairs office, the sergeant's military lawyer has ``no comment to make on his case at this time.''

The next step will be a review of the charges by the commander of the 326th Engineer Battalion, Lt. Col. Peter A. DeLuca, who ``exercises special court-martial convening authority over him,'' read the post's statement. In particular, the commander can direct a pre-trial investigation under Article 32 of the military justice code.

An Article 32 hearing is the equivalent of a civilian grand jury inquiry, except that the accused has a right to be present, to cross-examine witnesses and to call witnesses on his behalf. The accused may also testify, but is not required to do so.

Akbar may also waive his right to an Article 32 hearing.

The Army's Special Court Martial Convening Authority has granted a 30-day delay in the process due to ongoing combat operations in Iraq. Fort Campbell authorities were unclear when a hearing would be scheduled for Akbar.