Federal prosecutors showed a Richmond jury 15 secretly recorded videos Wednesday, with accused Taliban fighter Irek Hamidullin describing the planning and execution of a failed 2009 insurgent attack in Afghanistan.
Hamidullin, 55, is a former Soviet tank commander and accused Taliban operative, now the first enemy combatant captured on the Afghan battlefield to be tried in the United States.
The clandestine videos were recorded from a camera concealed within a coffee cup, after U.S. service members captured Hamidullin and interviewed him at Bagram Airfield.
Prosecutors argue Hamidullin ordered the attack, in order to shoot down American helicopters responding to the scene. Defense attorneys assert the Taliban fighter only wanted to attack corrupt Afghan border patrol agents.
“He told us what led up to the attack, how the target was chosen, what went wrong, and the commands he issued for a retreat,” said Ronald Comers, the FBI supervisory special agent who led the interviews.
The coffee cup was placed on a table in front of Hamidullin, with the video capturing the detainee responding to questions in English.
“He was hesitant to answer questions that would harm another Muslim brother,” Comers said. “We agreed if he preferred not to answer, rather than lie to us, he would not answer.”
But over the course of the 15 interview excerpts played for the jury, Hamidullin described the preparations to attack an Afghan base on the border with Pakistan, known as Camp Leyza.
The attack would take place at midnight, on the holiday of Eid al-Adha. Hamidullin said Taliban fighters had the expectation that American helicopters would arrive 20 minutes after the assault began.
“If I prepare weapons for operation, we will try to help [the Taliban],” Hamidullin said during one of the recordings. “Allah gives same reward to shooter and person who ordered shooter.”
The videos detail Hamidullin explaining how he had to abort the attack because of malfunctioning weapons. The accused Taliban fighter was wounded during the assault, with American troops preventing Afghan officers from executing him.
“We had to retreat because attacking with remaining weapons that did work would be like Palestinians attacking tanks with rocks,” Hamidullin said.
“I wanted to shoot… But the wounds stopped me. My statements will add to my sentence another year or two.”
When Comers showed Hamidullin photos of the dead from the battlefield, the FBI agent testified the defendant seemed to be contently admiring the deceased.
“He said he would have to kill us if he met us on the streets,” Comers continued, “unless we paid a tax for those not of the Muslim faith to have protection.”
It was also revealed during the interviews that Mullah Omar, the supreme commander of the Taliban whose death was only confirmed days ago, gave Hamidullin two houses in Kabul during the summer of 2001.
After a bench conference requested by the defense with U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson, prosecutors could only describe Omar as “associated with the Taliban,” in order to avoid unfairly prejudicial testimony.
The defense is expected to present its case Thursday, with Hamidullin on the witness list. Defense council reserves the right to call Hamidullin but may ultimately decide against asking him to testify.
The jury could have the case by noon Friday, with Hamidullin facing life in prison.
The Russian citizen faces a 15 count indictment, with charges ranging from conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction to attempting to destroy U.S. military aircraft.