By Hazel Trice Edney
NNPA Washington Correspondent
Asan Akbar, the Army sergeant accused of killing two of his fellow soldiers in Kuwait with grenades, was torn between serving his country and trying to remain faithful to his Muslim religion, his mother says.
In a telephone interview from Los Angeles with the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service, the mother, Quran Bilal, also a Muslim, recalled the last conversation with her son only a few days before he was to deploy. She said the two of them discussed his upcoming assignment to the Persian Gulf and his orders to blow up designated bridges.
I said, Are you sure you want to go there? He said, Yes.
Bilal continues, My son said, Mom, Im just going to go up there and blow up the bridges. I said, Okay. I said, Blow up the bridges good. You dont want your [Muslim] brothers to cross, because if they cross, you dont want to kill them. So I said, Blow up the bridges good and watch out for snipers because theyre not going to know that you are a Muslim. He said, Okay, Mom. No problem.
But there was a problem.
The Army alleges that, instead of tossing grenades at enemy troops, Akbar threw them at members of the 101st Airborne Division deployed to Camp Pennsylvania, Kuwait, killing two U.S. soldiers and injuring 15 others. The dead were identified as Army Capt. Christopher Scott Seifert, 27, of Easton, Pa., and Air Force Maj. Gregory Stone, 40, of Boise, Idaho.
The question of why is on everyones minds, from military officials to Akbars closest relatives, who have not spoken with him since he was arrested March 23 and taken to a detention center at Mannheim, Germany. At press time, Akbar had not been charged, but he was transferred to Fort Campbell, Ky., home of the 101st.
Akbar was described by relatives and friends as quiet, studious, respectful and a devout Muslim. After graduating from Los Angeles Locke High School in 1988, Akbar enrolled at University of California-Davis. Graduating with a double degree in aeronautical science engineering and mechanical engineering, he joined the Army in 1998, hoping to get it to pay for a masters degree in engineering.
Imam Abdul Karim Hasan, minister of the Bilal Islamic Center in South Central Los Angeles where Akbar worshipped while in high school, believes Akbar should never have joined the Army.
He didnt have the military mind, Hasan says. He was not equipped to be pushed. He seemed to have a peaceful mind. He seemed to be the type that I would see on the corner holding a sign that says no war. He was not military material. He was corporate material.
Akbars full Army record has not been disclosed to the public. But military spokespersons have been widely quoted as charging that Akbar had an attitude problem, and had been reprimanded for insubordination. According to The Los Angeles Times, when Akbar was apprehended by fellow soldiers, he yelled, ''You guys are coming into our countries and you're going to rape our women and kill our children.
Akbars stepfather, William Bilal, who lives in Baton Rouge, La., and is divorced from Akbars mother, recalls a Christmas conversation he had with Akbar three years ago. He was talking about how hard it is for a Black man to make rank, the stepfather recalls. I just told him hed have to deal with it.
The mother says her son did not make a habit of complaining to her about racial discrimination in the Army. But, he did say that his platoon and the guys in charge over him, that none of them liked him, she says. But she does not believe that was enough to push her son over the edge.
When a reporter told her the official version of what had happened in Kuwait, she was shocked.
When he told me that, I said that wasnt true. My son wouldnt do anything like that. I know he didnt do that. No, he did not do that. Hed have no reason to do something like that.
This was not her only son to join the military or the first to have experienced problems after enlisting.
Mustafa Ismail Bilal, 20, was in the Air Force for three years until last year. He says he deliberately committed minor infractions to get out of service. Stationed at Moody Air Force Base near Valdosta, Ga., Bilal says he was badgered because he was a Muslim. He says the Air Force granted him an early general discharge under honorable conditions.
Bilal says he understands the pressure his older brother might be under.
Its just like being bullied, the younger brother says. He aint got a mean bone in his body, but if you push him, push him, push him, then hell roar and come right back at you and the bully will get his butt whipped.
The younger brother lives in Baton Rouge with his stepfather, William Bilal. Both refer to Akbar as Hasan.
When a reporter telephoned the stepfather at 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 23, to ask about Akbars character, William Bilal beamed. I thought they were going to give him an honor or something, he recalls. The reporter did not say that his call was about dishonor, not honor.
A second reporter would be more direct.
I had seen the picture on TV earlier, but didnt recognize him, Bilal recounts. They were showing it again on CNN as [the second reporter on the phone] was talking. I took a focused look. Thats when I contrived who the man was. I never in my heart thought it would be him. Im looking in his face, but this is not the Hasan I know. Im like, No.
This is not Hasan.
If this is Hasan, what could have driven him to this breaking point?
The unusual story took another twist.
Just hours after the NNPA News Service interview last Thursday, federal agents searched William Bilals house and charged him with illegal possession of firearms. Just as details began to emerge about Akbars past, so did sordid details from Bilals early years.
According to U. S. Attorney David Dugas, the ATFs affidavit states that the stepfather was convicted of aggravated rape in 1970 and served 15 years in prison. If convicted for gun possession, Bilal, a 52-year-old air conditioner repairman, could be found in violation of his parole and sentenced to 10 more years in prison.
This is not an unusual prosecution for us, says Dugas, We got this from a call that came into crime stoppers. The ATF has established probable cause that he has committed a crime.
Dugas adds that though Bilal is in custody, he has not yet been indicted. He says he has 10 days after Bilals arrest to make the indictment or up to 20 days if they free him on bond. A bond hearing was set for Wednesday.
Most relatives and friends are focused on the impact of Akbars actions, if the charges prove true.
Akbars Imam expresses concern that Muslims, already experiencing escalated discrimination after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, will now suffer even more from stereotyping because of the allegations against Akbar.
Ive taught hundreds of children and none of them have gotten involved in anything like that, and they havent gone this way and some have been in the military, Hasan says. African-Americans in general are a patriotic people, and weve fought in every war with high morality.
So, this is one incident of all kinds of incidents in the service, and we dont know what happened to him to push him over the edge.
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