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US Sentences Russian Taliban Fighter to Life in Prison

FILE- An artist rendering shows, Irek Hamidullin, front center, his attorney Robert Wagner, front left, and interpreter Ihab Samra, front right, as Judge Henry Hudson, left, listens in Federal Court in Richmond, Virginia, Nov. 7, 2014.

A former Russian tank commander turned Taliban militant will spend the rest of his life in prison for a failed attack against U.S. and Afghan forces in 2009.

Irek Ilgiz Hamidullin, 55, was sentenced in Washington Thursday to a life term plus 30 years. He was charged with conspiring to shoot down American helicopters and using a weapon of mass destruction.

"Few crimes could be more serious than this one," U.S. Attorney Dana Boente said Thursday. "In a well-planned, deliberate, and premeditated attack, Hamidullin led an assault upon an Afghan outpost by a group of insurgents, many of whom he recruited and trained, with the intent to kill Afghan border police and responding American forces."

Hamidullin and the others used machine guns, bombs, and shoulder-fired rockets to try to attack an Afghan military post in Khost, near the Pakistani border. When they attempted to fire at U.S. helicopters who responded to the attack, the weapons misfired.

A U.S. plane fired at and killed about 20 of the insurgents when they tried to retreat into Pakistan.

The next day U.S. forces captured Hamdullin, who was wounded and hiding on the battlefield.

Defense to Appeal

Hamidullin's lawyer, public defender Paul Gill, said he would appeal the convictions and sentence.

U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson handed down the sentence after Hamidullin, a convert to Islam, delivered a defense of his actions that lasted more than half an hour and cited Jesus Christ and Allah.

During his address to the court, Hamidullin argued that he was not a terrorist and had the right to defend himself against "American aggressors" who had invaded Afghanistan.

"As a Muslim, I don't accept your law. I don't acknowledge this court," Hamidullin said through an interpreter.

Hamidullin, who had close-cropped hair and a goatee, was brought into court in a wheelchair, and appeared thin. U.S. medics treated him after he was shot multiple times during his apprehension.

He was held in prison in Afghanistan for five years and was frequently interrogated by Federal Bureau of Investigation and military personnel.

Before sentencing, Hudson said that one statement that resonated with him was Hamidullin's saying to an FBI agent that "if I see you in the street I would have to kill you as an infidel."

Hudson said that statement alone made Hamidullin a continued threat to society.

But Hamidullin told Hudson that interpreters had twisted what he said. His message had been that he would have to kill the agent as an infidel because he was in Afghanistan as an invader, he said.

He compared the U.S. role in Afghanistan to fascism and the Nazis during World War II.

Some information for this report from Reuters.