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Court-martial recommended in grenade attack case

FORT KNOX, Kentucky -- An investigating officer today recommended the court-martial of a soldier charged in the deadly grenade attack on sleeping 101st Airborne comrades in Kuwait.

Evidence shows Sergeant Hasan Akbar had ample time to acquire the grenades used in the attack and that Akbar's rifle killed one of the two officers who died, said Colonel Patrick Reinert at an Article 32 hearing.

"There are reasonable grounds to believe the accused committed the offensive charges," Reinert said. "This was a surprise attack executed by stealth."

Fourteen other soldiers were wounded in the March 23 attack days before the 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division was to move into Iraq.

Reinert's recommendation will go to Abkar's battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Peter DeLuca of the 326th Engineer Battalion who will decide how the case will proceed and has the option to dismiss the case.

If he also recommends a court-martial, it would have to be ordered by Major General David Petraeus, commanding general of the 101st.

Major Trey Cate, 101st spokesman, said he does not know when DeLuca -- who is in Iraq -- would make a decision.

Akbar's attorney said in closing arguments Friday morning that no eyewitnesses placed the soldier at the scene, and that soldiers on the ground unduly assumed he committed the crime because he is Muslim.

"Nobody, not one witness, can say they saw Sergeant Akbar throw a grenade or fire a weapon," Lieutenant Colonel Victor Hansen argued.

Captain Harper Cook, an attorney for the prosecution, said Akbar stole seven grenades from a Humvee he was guarding, then an hour later walked to the brigade operations area to attack the three tents.

"He selected the weapons, he pulled the pins, he threw the grenades and he shot Major (Kenneth) Romaine with his rifle," Cook said. Romaine was wounded in both hands and his left thigh by a gunshot in the attack, he testified.

Cook said evidence shows Akbar's weapon was used to kill Captain Army Captain Christopher Scott Seifert, 27, of Easton, Pennsylvania Air Force Major Gregory Stone, 40, of Boise, Idaho, also was killed.

Cook also said Akbar was injured in his leg during the attack, but chose not to seek treatment because he wanted to blend in with other soldiers.

Akbar, 32, did not testify. He could face the death penalty if convicted at a court-martial.

It is the first time since the Vietnam War that a U.S. Army soldier has been prosecuted for the murder or attempted murder of another soldier during a period of war, the Army said.

Posted 20 June 2003