U.S. Serviceman Accused of Attack on Fellow Soldiers

In the early morning darkness of Sunday, March 23, an enemy launched a vicious attack on the soldiers of the 101st Airborne at Camp Pennsylvania in Kuwait.

Grenades ripped through the brigade's command tents, raining jagged and hot metal on unsuspecting officers, killing two soldiers and injuring 14 others.

Commanding Officer Ben Hodges was lucky to escape with a shrapnel wound.

"The first three tents he hit were where my command sergeant and I live... and my executive officers, where my majors stay, and where the captains stay," he said. "Those were all three tents that were hit."

After 11 of the injured were medivaced out to various combat service hospitals in the area, the troops of the 101st — known as the "screaming eagles" — manned their battle stations, believing the attack had come from outside the camp's wall.

On the home front, families of the servicemen watched helplessly as the terror unfolded. Cheryl Phillips' husband Shawn is a major in the 101st. He was in one of the tents attacked.

"It became a very real possibility that most of our husbands were involved," she said. "When we first found out, we just assumed the attack was from the outside. We were thinking, 'How could have someone have gotten in there? How could this have happened?'"

But as command began accounting for personnel, one man was found to be missing. Soldiers finally discovered him hiding in a bunker, his Army-issued grenades gone.

The man was Asan Akbar, a 31-year-old sergeant who is a Muslim and was with the Army's 326th Engineer Battalion. He was detained as the only suspect in the deadly attack.

Soon, news reports were coming out that Akbar had been disciplined once before while in Kuwait.

"He was having what some people might call an attitude problem," George Heath, a spokesman for the 101st Airborne at Fort Campbell, said.

Was that his motive?

Akbar's stepfather William Bilal thinks his stepson just lost it.

"Asan was pushed into this for him to click," he said. "Everybody's got a breaking point, and if he did this, he was driven."

Akbar, born Mark Fidel Kools, never showed any signs of trouble according to those who knew him. His high school's principal Dr. Gail Garrett recalls a good young man.

"He was an honor student, GPA of 3.75, on the decathlon team, nice," she said. "He never got into trouble. He was the kind of student — son — you'd be proud of."

Abdual Karim Hasan is the imam at the Bilal Islamic Center in Los Angeles where Akbar's family once worshipped. He recalls the boy having little interest in anything other than books and schoolwork

"He was a quiet person," he said. "Quiet, very studious and very reserved."

It was his academic diligence that led Akbar to the University of California-Davis, where he graduated with a degree in engineering. It so came as a surprise to some when he joined the Army.

"When his mother told me he had joined the military, I was shocked," Hasan said."That was a shock to me because that wasn't his character"

Those close to Akbar say they find it hard to believe this quiet man could have turned on his fellow soldiers.

Retired Lt. Col. Bill Cowan said the event remains a mystery.

"We don't know if he was acting out as a Muslim, striking back at the American military for striking into Iraq or whether — indeed — this is a personal thing between him and somebody that he was reporting to," he said.

"In the final analysis, there are no circumstances which make this justifiable in any way whatsoever."

Cheryl's husband survived the attack with shrapnel wounds, but two other officers died.

"I totally believe in our justice system," she said. "[Akbar] will go through the appropriate court marshal and he will get what he deserves."

Attorney and military law expert James Klimaski says the 31-year-old may face the ultimate punishment.

"He can be charged with murder," he said. "If it's murder in the first degree, then he's eligible for the death penalty."