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WAR WITH IRAQ

GI Held in Attack at Base Made Anti-U.S. Remarks

March 24, 2003|David Zucchino | Times Staff Writer

CAMP PENNSYLVANIA, Kuwait — The 101st Airborne Division soldier accused of killing a division captain and wounding 15 fellow soldiers is a Muslim who made anti-American statements after he was apprehended, according to soldiers who survived the grenade and automatic weapon attack early Sunday.

The soldier, who rolled a grenade into each of three tents of sleeping officers and senior noncommissioned officers of the 101st, shot at least two fellow soldiers as they raced from their tents, the witnesses said.

Outside the charred and blood-splattered tents Sunday, soldiers recalled hearing the suspect say as he was being led away by armed soldiers: "You guys are coming into our countries and you're going to rape our women and kill our children."

Military authorities identified the suspect, who was being questioned Sunday but had not been charged, as Sgt. Asan Akbar, 31. Akbar appears to have spent much of his youth in California.

George Heath, a spokesman for the division's home base at Ft. Campbell, Ky., said Akbar had been "having what some might call an attitude problem." Max Blumenfeld, an Army spokesman in Kuwait City, said the suspect's motive "most likely was resentment."

Akbar graduated from Locke High School in Los Angeles. He also studied at the Masjid Bilal Islamic Center, a predominantly African American mosque in South-Central Los Angeles.

Federal agents visited the mosque complex twice on Sunday, asking for information about Akbar, said its imam, Karim Abdul Hasan. Agents also questioned at least two residents of Davis, Calif., who had rented rooms to Akbar while he was a student at the UC campus there.

The soldier killed in the attack was identified as Capt. Christopher Scott Seifert, 27. Witnesses said they believed Seifert was the soldier shot in the back by the assailant as the officer paused outside his tent to put on his gas mask, as required when the camp is under threat.

Two of those wounded were treated at the scene and released. Ten others were treated for superficial wounds; three others were seriously wounded and were being flown to Germany for treatment, according to a military source.

Akbar, who was overpowered by a 101st Airborne major, was carrying two grenades and an incendiary grenade, along with a standard-issue M-4 automatic rifle. His leg was bleeding, apparently cut by shrapnel from one of the exploding grenades.

Soldiers described a terrifying and chaotic few minutes that began at 1:09 a.m., when the first grenade exploded. The suspect shouted, "We're being attacked!" at the same moment that, coincidentally, this desert camp's Patriot antimissile battery fired, triggering an emergency alarm.

That led many soldiers to believe that the camp was either under an enemy missile attack or being overrun.

"The first thing I thought was some sort of commando attack, or a terrorist raid," said the commander of the division's 1st Brigade, Col. Frederick B. Hodges, his right arm bandaged in three places and his fatigue pants smeared with his own blood from a grenade wound.

The brigade's command sergeant major, Bart Womack, who shares the tent with Hodges, said he was watching a televised golf show at the front of the tent when someone rolled an incendiary grenade past him. The grenade set the tent on fire and created a cloud of black smoke, he said.

"I was furious," Womack recalled, standing next to pools of blood and scorched canvas inside the tent. "I was thinking, 'How did the enemy get into our camp?' "

He shook the colonel awake, Womack said, just as a fragmentation grenade exploded next to Womack's cot, spraying shrapnel and wounding Hodges. Much of the impact was absorbed by stacks of military food packets, heavy boxes of water and the sergeant's storage chest, Womack said.

The colonel said he and Womack struggled to get out of the tent. "I ran into something and realized the tent was on fire," Hodges said. "I was crawling on the floor trying to find my weapon and [gas] mask."

Hodges had stumbled into his executive officer, who emerged from the small tent's entrance, only to be shot in the leg. Womack said Akbar had been lying in wait by the tent entrance with his rifle. Akbar ran to the next tent a few paces away, Womack said, and tossed a fragmentation grenade inside. When an officer ran out, Womack said, "The guy just stopped, shot the officer in the back when he paused to put on his mask, then he kept on running."

As some soldiers called for medical aid, others ran through the brigade's emergency accountability procedures and quickly realized that Akbar was not accounted for. According to witnesses, the suspect had put on a gas mask and ducked into a ground-level concrete bunker near the officers' tents, bleeding from the leg.

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