Thursday, December 2, 2021

Ex-Taliban Commander Pleads Not Guilty to Killing US Troops

A former Taliban commander previously charged with kidnapping a US journalist pleaded not guilty on Friday for the 2008 killing of three US soldiers in Afghanistan, telling a federal judge that “the allegations are false.”

Haji Najibullah, 45, appeared in federal court in Manhattan to file a petition after prosecutors last week uncovered new charges against the former Taliban commander in Afghanistan’s Wardak province, adjacent to Kabul.

The indictment alleges that Taliban fighters under the command of Najibullah attacked a US military convoy, killing US Army First Class Sergeants Matthew Hilton and Joseph McKay, Sergeant Mark Palmatier and their unnamed Afghan interpreter.

If found guilty, Najibullah could face a life sentence.

Najibullah has been charged with 13 counts, including providing material aid to acts of terrorism that resulted in the death, murder of US citizens, kidnapping and taking hostage.

“These allegations are false,” said Najibullah through a Pashto language interpreter. “None of this is mine. There are many more stories behind it.”

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The Taliban took power in Afghanistan in August, nearly 20 years after being ousted in a US-led invasion. Washington is pressuring the Taliban to release a kidnapped American and prevent Afghanistan from becoming a stronghold for extremist groups.

Senior US and Taliban officials held their first one-on-one meeting over the weekend in Doha, Qatar.

The latest indictment comes a year after prosecutors accused Najibullah of kidnapping an American journalist in 2008.

Although prosecutors did not identify the journalist, a law enforcement official familiar with the matter told Reuters last year that David Rohde was involved in the case. Rohde, a Pulitzer Prize winner who is now in The New Yorker magazine and previously worked for Reuters and the New York Times, absconded in 2009.

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