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Tuesday, March 9

Soldier accused of grenade attack gets trial date

By The (Louisville, K.Y.) Courier-Journal

FORT KNOX, Ky. - A military judge set a July 12 trial date Tuesday for a 101st Airborne Division soldier charged with killing two officers and attempting to kill others in a grenade attack in Kuwait last year early in the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar, 32, appeared in court in uniform at his arraignment before a military judge, Col. Dan Trimble, at Fort Knox. Akbar, who faces a possible death sentence if convicted, did not enter a plea, reserving the right to do so at a later court appearance.

Akbar's lawyer, Usama Dan-Fodio, a civilian attorney from Atlanta, asked Trimble to postpone the trial until the fall, saying he needs more time to review the evidence and become familiar with court-martial procedures. Trimble, from Fort Benning, Ga., turned down the request but suggested that Dan-Fodio renew it when he knows more about the case and can be more precise about how much time he needs. ``It's not my intent to force you into a trial for which you have not had adequate time to prepare,'' Trimble said.

The Army has appointed two military lawyers to assist in Akbar's defense.Akbar responded ``Yes, sir'' when the judge asked whether he understood the proceeding.

His mother sat behind him and declined, through a military spokeswoman, to speak with reporters. Prosecutors and defense lawyers also declined to talk to reporters after the hearing, said Constance H. Shaffery, Fort Knox public affairs officer.

The trial will take place at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Akbar is charged with two counts of premeditated murder and three counts of attempted premeditated murder related to the March 23 nighttime attack on soldiers at Camp Pennsylvania, Kuwait, the 101st's compound in the desert near the Iraq border. The 101st is based at Fort Campbell, Ky.

Akbar is alleged to have thrown hand grenades into three tents where officers were sleeping and fired a rifle at officers as they scrambled to get out of their tents. Killed in the attack were Army Capt. Christopher Scott Seifert, 27, of Easton, Pa., and Air Force Maj. Gregory Stone, 40, of Boise, Idaho. Fourteen others, including 13 officers, were wounded.

Akbar, a Muslim who joined the Army in 1998 after completing two bachelor's degrees at the University of California-Davis, has been in custody at Fort Knox, where he has been held since his return to the United States after the attack. He is being held in a solitary cell at the post's Regional Confinement Center.

Akbar has time for exercise, has access to books and television and has had visits from his parents and his lawyers, Shaffery said Tuesday. He also has had visits from a Muslim cleric from Louisville and has access to the military chaplain, she said.