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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, October 7, 2021

Former Taliban Commander Charged With Killing American Troops In 2008

Haji Najibullah, Previously Charged in 2008 Kidnapping of American Journalist, Indicted for 2008 Attacks on U.S. Servicemembers in Afghanistan, Including Murders of Three American Soldiers and Afghan Interpreter and Downing of U.S. Helicopter

Audrey Strauss, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Mark J. Lesko, Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security, Michael J. Driscoll, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), and Dermot Shea, Police Commissioner of the City of New York (“NYPD”), announced the filing of a 13-count superseding indictment charging HAJI NAJIBULLAH, a/k/a “Najibullah Naim,” a/k/a “Abu Tayeb,” a/k/a “Atiqullah,” a/k/a “Nesar Ahmad Mohammad,” with federal terrorism-related offenses spanning approximately 2007 to 2009 and stemming from NAJIBULLAH’s role as a Taliban commander in Afghanistan.  NAJIBULLAH had previously been charged with crimes related to the 2008 kidnapping of an American journalist and two Afghan nationals.  In addition to those charges, the superseding indictment charges NAJIBULLAH with attacks on U.S. troops conducted by NAJIBULLAH and the Taliban fighters under his command, including a June 26, 2008, attack on an American military convoy that killed three U.S. Army servicemembers – Sergeants First Class Matthew L. Hilton and Joseph A. McKay, and Sergeant Mark Palmateer – and their Afghan interpreter, as well as an October 27, 2008, attack that resulted in the shooting down of a U.S. military helicopter.  NAJIBULLAH is already in federal custody on the initial indictment.  The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Katherine P. Failla.

U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “As alleged, during one of the most dangerous periods of the conflict in Afghanistan, Haji Najibullah led a vicious band of Taliban insurgents who terrorized part of Afghanistan and attacked U.S. troops.  One of these lethal attacks resulted in the deaths of three brave American servicemembers and their Afghan interpreter, and another attack brought down a U.S. helicopter.  Najibullah also arranged to kidnap at gunpoint an American journalist and two other men, and held them hostage for more than seven months.  Neither time nor distance can weaken our resolve to hold terrorists accountable for their crimes and to see justice done for their victims.  Thanks to the outstanding work of our law enforcement partners, Najibullah will answer for his heinous acts in an American courtroom.”          

Acting Assistant Attorney General Mark J. Lesko said: “Najibullah, who allegedly served as a Taliban commander in 2007 and 2008, is charged with numerous terrorism offenses relating to attacks against the U.S. military in Afghanistan, including an attack that killed three U.S. servicemembers, and others relating to taking an American journalist hostage in Afghanistan. He will now be held accountable in an American courtroom. The National Security Division and our partners are committed to identifying and holding accountable those who target and harm Americans anywhere in the world. I want to thank the agents, analysts, and prosecutors who are responsible for this case.”

FBI Assistant Director Michael J. Driscoll said: “We meant what we said when we told the public we wouldn’t stop aggressively pursuing charges against those who harm our citizens, servicemembers, and allies, whether at home or abroad. Najibullah’s alleged actions will not be forgiven or forgotten, and the FBI, along with our partners, will continue to pursue justice for all victims in this case.”

NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said: “Time and again, the FBI agents and our NYPD detectives of the Joint Terrorism Task Force have demonstrated that they will go to any corner of the globe to ensure terrorists are captured and brought to justice. Haji Najibullah was charged with kidnapping three men including a journalist from New York City. Even after those crimes were charged, the JTTF investigators continued to gather more evidence. These newest charges for the terrorist murders of U.S. servicemen in Afghanistan will hopefully bring some small measure of closure to the families of those soldiers who gave their lives for our country.”

According to the superseding indictment unsealed today in Manhattan federal court:[1]

As of in or about 2007, NAJIBULLAH was the Taliban commander responsible for the Jaghato district in Afghanistan’s Wardak Province, which borders Kabul.  In this role, NAJIBULLAH commanded more than a thousand fighters, at times acted as a spokesperson for the Taliban, and reported to senior leadership in the Taliban.  During that time, NAJIBULLAH and the Taliban fighters under his command conducted attacks intended to kill and which did kill American and NATO troops and their Afghan allies, using automatic weapons, improvised explosive devices (“IEDs”), rocket-propelled grenades (“RPGs”), and other anti-tank weapons, including an attack that destroyed an Afghan Border Patrol outpost in or about September 2008.

On or about June 26, 2008, Taliban fighters under NAJIBULLAH’s command attacked a U.S. military convoy in the vicinity of Sayed Abad, Wardak Province, Afghanistan, with IEDs, RPGs, and automatic weapons, killing three U.S. Army servicemembers – Sergeants First Class Matthew L. Hilton and Joseph A. McKay, and Sergeant Mark Palmateer – and their Afghan interpreter.

On or about October 27, 2008, Taliban fighters under NAJIBULLAH’s command shot down a U.S. military helicopter using RPGs in the vicinity of Sayed Abad, Wardak Province, Afghanistan.  The Taliban subsequently claimed responsibility for downing the helicopter, asserting that it was “shot down [by] the mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate.”  The Taliban also falsely claimed that “[a]ll those onboard were killed,” when, in fact, no troops died as a result of the attack.

On or about November 10, 2008, NAJIBULLAH and his co-conspirators, armed with machineguns, kidnapped an American journalist (“Victim-1”) and two Afghan nationals who were assisting Victim-1 (“Victim-2” and “Victim-3”) at gunpoint in Afghanistan.  Approximately five days later, on or about November 15, 2008, NAJIBULLAH and his co-conspirators forced the three hostages to hike across the border from Afghanistan to Pakistan, where NAJIBULLAH and his co-conspirators detained the hostages.  For the next seven months, NAJIBULLAH and his co-conspirators held the hostages captive in Pakistan.

During their captivity, the victims of NAJIBULLAH and his co-conspirators were forced to make numerous calls and videos seeking help.  For example, on or about November 19, 2008, while in Pakistan, NAJIBULLAH and a co-conspirator (“CC-1”) directed Victim-1 to call his wife in New York.  In one of the videos, Victim-1 – the American journalist – was forced to beg for his life while a guard pointed a machinegun at Victim-1’s face.      

*                *                *

NAJIBULLAH, 45, of Afghanistan, is charged with (1) conspiring to provide material support for acts of terrorism resulting in death, (2) providing material support for acts of terrorism resulting in death, (3) conspiring to murder U.S. nationals, (4) murdering U.S. nationals Hilton, McKay, and Palmateer, (5) murdering officers and employees of the United States, and a person assisting them in their duties, by killing Hilton, McKay, Palmateer, and their interpreter, (6) attempting to murder officers and employees of the United States, (7) conspiring to destroy U.S. military aircraft, (8) destroying a U.S. military aircraft, (9) conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction, (10) conspiring to take hostages, (11) hostage-taking, (12) conspiring to commit kidnapping, and (13) kidnapping.  Counts One through Five and Nine through Thirteen each carry a maximum penalty of life in prison.  Counts Six through Eight each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.  Count Five also carries a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison.  The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by a judge.

Ms. Strauss and Mr. Lesko praised the outstanding efforts of the FBI’s New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, which principally consists of agents from the FBI and detectives from the NYPD.  They also thanked the New York and New Jersey Port Authority Police and the Department of Defense for their assistance with this investigation, as well as the Ukrainian authorities and the Office of International Affairs of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division for their assistance in the arrest and extradition of the defendant.

This prosecution is being handled by the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sam Adelsberg, David W. Denton, Jr., and Jessica K. Fender are in charge of the prosecution, with assistance from Trial Attorney Jennifer Burke of the Counterterrorism Section.

The charges contained in the superseding indictment are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.   

 

[1] As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the superseding indictment and the description of the indictment set forth below constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.

Topic(s): 
Counterterrorism
Contact: 
james.margolin@usdoj.gov nicholas.biase@usdoj.gov (212) 637-2600
Press Release Number: 
21-270
Updated October 12, 2021