WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Jordanian Soldier Sentenced To Life In Killing Of 3 American Troops

Jul 17, 2017

A Jordanian military court convicted a Jordanian soldier of murder and sentenced him to life in prison for the November 2016 shooting of three members of the U.S. Army Special Forces outside an air base.

The soldier, 1st Sgt. Marik al-Tuwayha, pleaded not guilty and said he did not resent the Americans stationed at the base in al-Jafr, the Associated Press reports. He said he opened fire on the American convoy because they failed to stop at the gate, and he thought the base was under attack. After the verdict was read Tuwayha said, "I have all the respect for the king, but I was doing my job," according to the AP.

The three service members, known as Green Berets, were Staff Sgt. Matthew C. Lewellen, 27, of Lawrence, Kan.; Staff Sgt. Kevin J. McEnroe, 30, of Tucson, Ariz.; and Staff Sgt. James F. Moriarty, 27, of Kerrville, Tex.

Jordan had initially sided with Tuwayha's account, saying the Americans had spurred the attack by failing to follow entry rules, the AP reports, but they later withdrew that claim.

"We are reassured to see the perpetrator brought to justice," the Pentagon said in a statement to NPR. "We appreciate the access provided to us and to the families of the victims, as well as the expedience and seriousness of the court proceedings, consistent with Jordanian law."

"Despite this tragedy, Jordan remains a strategic partner," the statement added.

Surveillance video of the encounter was not publicly screened, but was shown to relatives of the victims. "Relatives said the video showed that the gunfight lasted about six minutes and that Sergeant Tawayha had reloaded and opened fire, even though the Americans waved their hands and yelled: 'We're Americans! We're friendly,' " The New York Times reports.

The FBI has opened an investigation into the incident, as it does when terror is a possible motive, the Times reports.

Jordan is a part of the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS. The country hosts several hundred U.S. military contractors and some U.S. F-16 fighter jets are stationed there, according to Reuters, which reports the U.S. uses Jordanian airfields to strike targets in Syria.

Tuwayha is a member of a tribe called the Howeitat, the Times reports.

"We condemn this ruling against this nation's son, who was defending himself and his country and was shot by the Americans who refused to stop at the base," the tribe said in a statement about the court's decision, according to the newspaper. "Is Arab blood cheap and American blood more worthy? This is an unjust ruling."

A life sentence can mean 20 years in Jordan, the AP reports; Tuwayha's defense attorney said he would appeal the ruling.

In 2015, a Jordanian police officer shot and killed five people, including two Americans, at a security training center near Amman. The Times reports the incidents have "raised fears of rising extremism in a country that has largely resisted it."

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.