Jordan hands life sentence to soldier for killing 3 US military trainers

A court in Jordan has handed down a life sentence to a Jordanian soldier who had killed three US military trainers in an air base in south of the Middle Eastern country some eight months ago.  

The military court on Monday found 1st Sgt. Maarik al-Tawaiha guilty for gunning down three US military trainers as they waited to enter the King Faisal Air Base near al-Jafr city in Jordan’s southern province of Ma’an, on November 4 last year, and sentenced him to “hard labor for life”, an imprisonment that usually equates to 20 years but could last for a full lifetime.

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The verdict also demoted him to private and removed him from the military service.

The shooting incident, which triggered tensions between long-standing allies Washington and Amman, initially reported with conflicted accounts. In the aftermath of the incident, Jordanian authorities said that the vehicle, carrying the three US Army Green Berets, failed to stop as they drove up to the entrance of the air base, prompting Tawaiha to open fire at them.

Washington, however, refused to accept the narrative, saying it suspected a political motive behind the carnage.

Amman then changed its stance and charged Tawaiha with premeditated murder, to which the defendant pleaded “not guilty” on Monday, saying he opened fire, upon hearing the sound of a pistol shot from the direction of the US convoy, because he feared the base was coming under attack by militants.

Maarik al-Tawaiha (C) is led out of court following his trial, for the killing of three American military trainers outside an army base last year, on July 17, 2017, in the Jordanian capital Amman. (Photo by AFP)

“I have all the respect for the King [Abdullah], but I was doing my job,” Tawaiha further shouted as he was led out of the crowded courtroom. He also said that he had “no intention of killing anyone.”

The US embassy in Jordan issued a statement shortly after the conclusion of the court session, saying the trial “confirmed that the deceased US service members followed all established procedures when accessing the base the day of the incident, as we have noted before.” It added that they were reassured to see the perpetrator had been brought to justice.

Some of the family members of the deceased US soldiers lambasted Jordan’s handling of the case and said that the maximum life imprisonment was not severe enough, calling for the death penalty.

The incident comes about a year after a Jordanian police officer shot dead two US government contractors, a South African trainer and two Jordanians at a US-funded police training facility near Amman, the capital of Jordan, before being killed in a shootout.

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Jordan is a key ally of the United States in the Middle East as well as an active part of the so-called US-led coalition against the Daesh Takfiri terror group. The US uses Jordanian airfields to station warplanes for its campaign in Syria.

Jordan also hosts hundreds of American military personnel as part of a program to allegedly reinforce the kingdom’s defense.

The United States has also trained militants in Jordan for operations in Syria, which has been plagued by militancy since 2011.

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