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Soldier accused of attack on officers in Kuwait called an 'ideal student'

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

By Rene Sanchez, The Washington Post

LOS ANGELES -- Coming of age on some of this city's toughest streets, Asan Akbar stood out only for the good he did, never for causing trouble.

Soldiers of 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), mourn the loss of Capt. Christopher Seifert, of Easton, Pa., at a memorial ceremony yesterday at Camp Pennsylvania in Kuwait. Seifert was killed when fellow U.S. soldier Asan Akbar allegedly threw a grenade into his tent early Sunday morning. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. James Matise via the Associated Press)

At Locke High School near Watts, where many teenagers struggle to overcome daunting obstacles, he became a peer counselor, participated in academic decathlons and ran for the track team. He graduated in 1988 with an "A" average, went on to study engineering at the University of California at Davis and later gained acceptance into an elite division of the Army.

None of it squares with the infamous image that Akbar suddenly has now: A soldier accused of a deadly attack on his own commanders while at war.

"He was a role model here, an ideal student," Gail Garrett, Locke's principal and a longtime teacher at the school, said yesterday. "He was the type of gentleman you would love to say was your son."

Akbar, 31, a sergeant with the 101st Airborne Division, is in military custody in Kuwait, suspected of rolling live grenades into several command staff tents at Camp Pennsylvania early Sunday morning. The attack killed one officer, Capt. Christopher Scott Seifert, and wounded 15 others who had been sleeping. Three of them remain hospitalized in serious condition.

Military investigators still puzzled by the attack say that Akbar, whose responsibilities for the 101st Airborne included leading a team of soldiers that cleared land mines, recently had been disciplined for insubordination and held back at the camp while his unit charged into Iraq. A spokesman at Fort Campbell, Ky., where Akbar was based, said that he had developed an "attitude problem." No other details have been provided.

Akbar was born Mark Fidel Kools and grew up in Louisiana and Southern California. His mother later changed his name to Hasan Akbar. As an adult, he became a practicing Muslim, living and worshiping for a time at the Bilal Islamic Center in South Central Los Angeles. He was remembered there yesterday as a mild-mannered and studious young man.

"I was in shock that he was charged with this terrible crime," said Abdul Karim Hasan, the religious leader of the center. "I'm still in shock."

Three captains assigned to 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, comforted each other yesterday 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)

Akbar's mother, Quran Bilal, who lives in Baton Rouge, La., has told reporters that her son recently said he sensed that his Muslim beliefs were creating some tensions in the ranks of his army battalion. But military officials say they have no reason to believe that religious beliefs were a motive for the grenade attack. Fort Campbell has a community of several dozen Muslims who meet regularly on the base for religious services.

After graduating high school, Akbar moved to Northern California to attend UC Davis. He earned bachelor's degrees in aeronautical and mechanical engineering nine years later. A university spokesperson said Monday that Akbar "stopped and started" his studies several times during that period, but that she did not know why.

Akbar has been on active duty in the Army since 1998. While stationed at Fort Campbell, he lived in a modest apartment complex nearby. Neighbors said that he seemed shy, but not angry or threatening.

"He just kept to himself," said Andrea Smith, who lived in the apartment complex where Akbar is a tenant. Akbar may soon be sent back to Fort Campbell to military court proceedings. If he is convicted of the attack, he could face life in prison or the death penalty.

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