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GI in Tent Attack Was Harassed, Mom Says

Sergeant accused in grenade deaths was humiliated by officers and fellow soldiers because of his Islamic faith, he tells mother.

May 02, 2003|Richard A. Serrano | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army sergeant accused of killing two officers and injuring 14 soldiers by setting off grenades in three tents at a camp in Kuwait has told his mother that he was relentlessly humiliated about his Islamic faith by three superior officers.

Asan Akbar told his mother that after his deployment to Kuwait, fellow soldiers often called him a "raghead." He further claimed that he was "provoked and harassed" and felt as though he was the enemy rather than an American soldier about to help fight Saddam Hussein's regime.

"If they hadn't done what they done, and said what they said, this never would have happened," his mother, Quran Bilal, said Thursday in an interview from her home in Baton Rouge, La.

Bilal said her son told her that his unit "turned against him" in Kuwait and that he broke under the pressure of religious persecution. "I think he went temporarily insane and didn't even know it," she said. "Sometimes you react to things and don't even know what you're doing. A human being can only take so much."

Military authorities, expected to seek the death penalty at court-martial proceedings against Akbar, declined to address the Army engineer's allegations of harassment.

But Maj. Hugh "Trey" Cate, a spokesman for the Army's 101st Airborne Division, suggested that supervising officers had had problems with Akbar in the past.

Other military officials said shortly after the attacks that Akbar had "an attitude problem" and that his motive "most likely was resentment." They did not elaborate.

Akbar, 32, who grew up in Los Angeles, was working as a night sentinel on March 23 at Camp Pennsylvania in Kuwait when the attack occurred. According to the charges filed against him, Akbar tossed or rolled grenades into three tents.

Killed in the attack was Capt. Christopher Scott Seifert, 27, of Pennsylvania. Maj. Gregory Stone, 40, who was from Idaho, died several days later. Fourteen soldiers were injured; three escaped unharmed.

Witnesses recalled that in the nighttime bedlam that followed, Akbar was heard shouting, "You guys are coming into our countries, and you're going to rape our women and kill our children!"

Bilal said her son's assertions, made during a visit with him about two weeks ago at Ft. Knox, Ky., were the first time he had talked with her about the harassment he said he experienced in Kuwait .

Along with Akbar's mother, two other influential people in his life -- his religious leader in Los Angeles and a college professor at UC Davis -- said that if Akbar was indeed persecuted because of his religion, he was the kind of man who could easily have snapped.

They described an extremely quiet man who internalized many of his emotions.

Mont Hubbard, his college engineering professor in the late 1990s, said Akbar was "very devout and very serious about his religion."

"In fact," Hubbard said, "he was very sensitive, and I wouldn't be surprised that his explanation [that he was reacting to harassment] is true."

Abdul Karim Hasan, imam at the Masjid Bilal Islamic Center in Los Angeles, said Akbar was "a loner."

"You never knew what he was thinking," Hasan said. "You knew he was intelligent, but he was never expressive. And a lot of times people like that, you can't push them as far as someone who talks all the time."

A small percentage of American soldiers are Muslim. Of 1.4 million active-duty U.S. forces, about 4,200 are declared Muslims. Islamic organizations say there may be an additional 6,000 undeclared.

Military proceedings against Akbar are on hold. Under military law, he is entitled to an Article 32 hearing, similar to a grand jury proceeding, within 30 days of his arrest. But authorities cited the war in Iraq as a factor in delaying the hearing.

The proceeding, which the Pentagon says will likely occur during the summer, will provide the first in-depth look at the case against Akbar.

It's not clear where the hearing will be held -- at Ft. Campbell, Ky., where Akbar and his unit were assigned, or in Kuwait, since that is where the crime occurred. Many of the witnesses from Akbar's unit are now in neighboring Iraq.

Akbar's mother said he enjoyed the Army and telephoned her before he was deployed to Kuwait. While at Ft. Campbell and at other postings in the United States, she said, he never mentioned any significant harassment over his religion.

"He said he was going over there with all the intentions of doing the right thing, doing what he was supposed to do," she said.

She said she did not hear from him after he left, and then was horrified when told of his arrest.

When she met with him last month, she said her son told her that three of his supervising officers complained to him that the only reason they were being forced to march up through the desert from Kuwait in the south was because the government of Turkey, a Muslim country, had refused to allow U.S. soldiers to be deployed into Iraq from the north. At another point, she said he told her, they became especially vicious. "You're a Muslim," she said he recalled being told. "You're an enemy. You're a sellout" like the Turks.

Military authorities are finishing their initial investigation and preparing the case against Akbar for an Army courtroom.

Specifically, he is charged with two counts of premeditated murder, 17 charges of attempted murder, aggravated arson of an inhabited dwelling and misbehavior as a sentinel.

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