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Grenade attack suspect shot at fellow soldiers

Monday, March 24, 2003

By David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times

CAMP PENNSYLVANIA, Kuwait -- The 101st Airborne Division soldier accused of single-handedly 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 suspect's grenade and automatic weapon attack yesterday.

Three captains assigned to 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, comforted each other this morning during the memorial service for Capt. Christopher Seifert, brigade S2 assistant, who was killed yesterday morning in a grenade attack, apparently by a U.S. soldier assigned to one of the units in the camp. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. James Matise via the Associated Press)

The soldier, who allegedly 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 yesterday afternoon, 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 yesterday but had not been charged, as Sgt. Asan Akbar, 31.

George Heath, a spokesman for the division's home base at Fort 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 is believed to have studied at the Masjid Bilal Islamic Center, a predominantly black mosque in South Central Los Angeles. Law-enforcement officials visited the mosque Sunday.

The soldier killed in the attack was identified as Capt. Christopher Scott Seifert, 27, of Easton, Pa. Witnesses said they believed Seifert was shot in the back as he 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 at regional U.S. military facilities in the region, while three others were seriously wounded and were being flown to Germany for treatment, according to a military source.

The suspect, who was overpowered by a 101st Airborne major, was carrying two more grenades and another 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 anti-missile 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.

In this image, courtesy of CBS, soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division carry one of those injured in a grenade attack at Camp Pennsylvania in Kuwait early yesterday monring. (CBS-TV via the Associated Press)

"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 colonel said he and command sergeant major Bart Womack struggled to get out of the tent after a grenade rolled in and exploded. "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 by the suspect. Womack said the suspect had been lying in wait by the tent entrance with his M-4.

The suspect ran to the next tent a few paces away, Womack said, and tossed a grenade inside.

When an officer came running 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."

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