FORT KNOX, Ky. – A military hearing opened Monday for a soldier accused of a deadly grenade attack on his fellow Americans in Kuwait (search), with witnesses recalling the carnage of an attack that rattled troops at the start of the war in Iraq.
The purpose of the Article 32 hearing, similar to a civilian grand jury proceeding, is to determine whether Akbar should be court-martialed. He could face the death penalty if convicted on two counts of premeditated murder and three counts of attempted murder.
The attack on officers in three tents from the Fort Campbell-based division's 1st Brigade happened days before the brigade was scheduled to move into Iraq. Those killed were Army Capt. Christopher Scott Seifert, 27, of Easton, Pa., and Air Force Maj. Gregory Stone, 40, of Boise, Idaho.
Akbar was present at the hearing, looking subdued. He yawned and closed his eyes a few times.
Capt. Terence Bacon had shrapnel injuries to both knees and suffered hearing loss in the attack. He said he remembered hearing screaming and seeing blood in the aftermath of the attack.
"It was kind of an ugly scene there," he said.
Maj. Kenneth Romaine said he was working on his computer in the tent he shared with other officers around 1 a.m. when he heard footsteps. Then a grenade was rolled into the tent.
He was not injured by the grenade. He said he loaded his pistol and stepped outside, and was shot. The single bullet hit both of his hands and his left thigh.
"I just know whoever it was shot before I could recognize who it was," Romaine said.
Another soldier, Maj. Verner Kiernan, testified that Akbar was the last noncommissioned officer who had been guarding a cache of grenades and four of them were unaccounted for after the attack.
He said he had heard an explosion and a commotion, then saw a black man in desert camouflage at the entrance of his tent. Akbar is black.
"We're under attack, sir," Kiernan recalled the man saying.
A second or two later, Kiernan testified, he heard something roll across the plywood floor of the tent. Then another explosion.
"The whole tent was filled with smoke and it (the grenade) had caused a fire in the back of the tent," Kiernan said.
Kiernan said he helped Stone, who was wounded in the neck but still conscious, until he was put on an ambulance. Seifert, he testified, had a gunshot wound in the back.
Under cross-examination from Akbar's lawyers, Sgt. First Class Patricia Ann Lewis, the brigade's equal opportunity adviser, said there have been cases of Muslim soldiers complaining about being treated unfairly.
Akbar, who is Muslim, had told family members he was wary of going to war in Iraq. His mother, Quran Bilal, said after the attack she was concerned he might have been accused because he is a Muslim.
Prosecutors expect to call a total of 39 witnesses for the hearing, with 23 of them testifying over a video link from Mosul, Iraq.
Akbar, 32, has the right to testify on his own behalf at the hearing, but the Army has not said whether he was expected to do so.
The Army has not suggested a possible motive in the attack. But George Heath, a Fort Campbell spokesman, said soon after the attack that Akbar had "an attitude problem."
Akbar's case marks the first time since the Vietnam war that a soldier in the U.S. Army has been prosecuted for the murder or attempted murder of another soldier during a period of war, said Maj. Steve Stover, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon.