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Taliban commander charged with killing U.S. troops

Oct. 8 (UPI) -- A federal grand jury in New York on Thursday indicted a former Taliban commander on charges connected to the killing of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and the downing of a U.S. military helicopter.

The grand jury unsealed the superseding indictment charging Haji Najibullah, 45, with 13 terrorism-related charges, including murder, attempted murder, destruction of U.S. military aircraft, hostage-taking and kidnapping.

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Najibullah was previously charged in connection to the abduction of an American journalist in November 2008, for which he was charged in October of last year.

The Justice Department said Najibullah was a Taliban commander from 2007 and oversaw more than a thousand fighters who attacked and killed American and NATO troops as well as Afghan allies with the use of automatic weapons, improvised explosive devices, rocket-propelled grenades and other anti-tank weapons. Ten of his 13 charges are punishable with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

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"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," U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss for the Southern District of New York said in a statement. "Neither time nor distance can weaken our resolve to hold terrorists accountable for their crimes and to see justice done for their victims."

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The indictment charges Najibullah with commanding Taliban fighters who on June 26, 2008, attacked a U.S. military convoy in Wardak Province, killing Sgt. First Class Matthew L. Hilton and Joseph McKay, Sgt. Mark Palmateer and their Afghan interpreter.

On Oct. 27, 2008, Taliban fighters under Najibullah's control also shot down a U.S. military helicopter, according to court documents. No one died as a result despite the Taliban claiming the attack was fatal for all on board, the Justice Department said.

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The indictment also accuses Najibullah of kidnapping a New York journalist and two Afghan nationals in Pakistan on Nov. 19, 2008.

New York Police Department Commissioner Dermot Shea said that even though Najibullah had already been charged in connection to the kidnapping, investigators continued to work to uncover further crimes that could be connected to the former Taliban leader.

"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," he said in a statement.

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Najibullah was arrested and extradited to the United States from Ukraine in October of last year.

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