LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (AP) — An Iraqi refugee accused of plotting to help terrorists back home may himself have been an insurgent during the war. When he goes on trial this month, several U.S. soldiers who suspect his roadside bombs may have killed their comrades in Iraq in 2005 will be watching.
Mohanad Shareef Hammadi, 24, is scheduled for trial Aug. 28, but not in connection with the battlefield deaths of six National Guardsmen seven years ago. Instead, Hammadi and another Iraqi refugee living in Kentucky, 30-year-old Waad Ramadan Alwan, were charged with trying to send weapons and cash back to al-Qaida in Iraq after they came to the United States. Alwan has pleaded guilty.
Several current and former soldiers from the same unit believe Hammadi and Alwan could have had a hand in two roadside bombings that killed six of their fellow soldiers in August 2005, when their unit was stationed near the city of Bayji in the volatile Sunni Triangle north of Baghdad.
Documents reviewed by The Associated Press show Hammadi and Alwan were insurgents in the same area around Bayji at the time the soldiers were stationed there and hit.
"It's going to be extremely hard to hold my temper, extremely hard to keep cool," said former Sgt. Brandon Miller, one of several former members of the task force who say they plan to attend the trial. Miller was awarded the Purple Heart after surviving a separate roadside bomb blast that destroyed the Humvee he was riding in in Bayji.
Miller and Staff Sgt. Joshua Hedetniemi say the men believe there's a chance Hammadi planted the roadside bombs that killed and injured their fellow soldiers, or fired bullets at them as snipers.
"A lot of the time, there's not a face to put with the actions, there's not a tangible enemy," Hedetniemi said. "It's very tough to pin down that type of enemy."
Hedetniemi said, based on the publicly available evidence and the timeline of his unit's deployment in Iraq, he is certain Alwan and Hammadi were among the insurgents who attacked his unit.
"There's no doubt he was in the same area we were," Hedetniemi told The Associated Press. "The evidence suggests that."
Multiple sources place Task Force Dragoon in the same violent area where Alwan and Hammadi told an FBI informant they worked two years into the U.S.-led war. Those sources include motions filed in court, criminal complaints and indictments of Alwan and Hammadi, search warrants for the two men's shared apartment and computers, media accounts of the task force's deployment and interviews with soldiers.
Neither the U.S. Attorney's office in Louisville nor the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington have publicly identified any unit they believe Alwan and Hammadi attacked and would not say if the pair was involved with attacks on the National Guard unit.
Eugene Fidell, co-founder of the National Institute of Military Justice who teaches military law at Yale Law School, said it would be possible, but tough, to bring murder charges against someone for killing a soldier in a war zone. Fidell said definitively showing Hammadi and Alwan attacked this unit and took part in the killing of at least six soldiers would be equally tough.
U.S. law has provisions that allow for such charges, but Fidell said he's never seen that type of case brought against a one-time insurgent.
"This is about as inconvenient a venue for doing proper forensic investigation as I can imagine," he said.
Court documents say Alwan and Hammadi worked as insurgents in Bayji, about 130 miles (209 kilometers) north of Baghdad. It was an area where former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had a base of support, starting shortly after the invasion in 2003.
Alwan told a confidential informant working for the FBI that as part of his work he filled roadside bombs with ball bearings, nails, even gravel, and drew diagrams to show how it is done. He also bragged about repeatedly killing Americans in Iraq, saying he was very good with a sniper rifle and that his "lunch and dinner would be an American."
Alwan told an FBI informant in 2011 that prior to one Humvee explosion, he had planted improvised explosive devices near a Bayji street detour.
Both the Iraqis and the soldiers described the area as the main road used by American convoys in Bayji.
Alwan and Hammadi each immigrated to the United States in 2009 after gaining refugee status. Court records do not explain why they were granted that status.
For reasons that are also unclear from court records, the FBI started a probe of Alwan in August 2010, using a confidential informant to record conversations with Alwan about a plan to send money and weapons to a fictional al-Qaida operative in Iraq.
The FBI also linked a fingerprint found on an unexploded roadside bomb to Alwan. The two were arrested in May 2011 when the FBI brought the sting to a close.
Follow Associated Press reporter Brett Barrouquere on Twitter: http://twitter.com/BBarrouquereAP .