Soldiers conduct a security patrol in Helmand province, Afghanistan, during the U.S. occupation of the country in 2010. File photo by Hossein Fatemi / UPI | License Photo
March 20 (UPI) -- A former Australian soldier has been charged with a war crime in connection with the execution-style slaying of an Afghan civilian during a deployment with the Australian Defense Force more than a decade ago.
Oliver Schulz, 41, of New South Wales, was taken into custody Monday following a lengthy investigation into the alleged murder of the Afghan man in a wheat field in 2012, according to a statement from the Australian Federal Police.
He faces life in prison for one count of murder under the Commonwealth Criminal Code, becoming the first Australian serviceman -- retired or active -- to be charged with a war crime under Australian law.
In one of the more unusual aspects of the case, Schulz will be put on trial in civilian court rather than in front of a court marshal or military tribunal.
"It's unprecedented," University of Tasmania law professor Tim McCormack, a special adviser on war crimes to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "We've never had a situation in the past where a member of the ADF, either current or former, has been charged with a war crime and slated for trial in a civilian court."
For now, he remains jailed without bond and is scheduled to make his first court appearance at Sydney's Downing Centre on May 16.
The fatal shooting first came to light in March 2020 after helmet-cam footage of the man's execution emerged on an investigative news program that was later televised worldwide.
The video purportedly shows Schulz shooting Dad Mohammad as the man lay defenseless on the ground following a May 2012 raid in Uruzgan Province in southern Afghanistan.
Members of Schulz's unit allegedly sicced a patrol dog on the victim, which mauled the married father of two before he was shot dead in cold blood.
Members of the investigative news team later tracked down Mohammad's father, who positively identified his son in the video.
The shooting sparked outrage in the Australian government, which led to an all-hands federal investigation that was later handed to the Office of the Special Investigator -- which is charged with probing alleged war crimes.
Once authorities finally caught up to Schulz, he told them that Mohammad had been observed carrying a radio and making tactical maneuvers before he was shot in self-defense.
The AFP credited the OSI for aiding the investigation into Schulz, while noting both agencies were looking into additional criminal allegations against Australian Defense Forces in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016.
The probe into Schulz, which wrapped up in November 2020, found dozens of other potential criminal incidents that have been referred to police for further investigation.
Aside from the charges he faces, Schulz has received numerous awards and commendations for his military service which includes several tours in Afghanistan and a stint with the British Special Forces.