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U.S. Soldier Detained in Fatal Attack on 101st Airborne Camp

U.S. Soldier Detained in Fatal Attack on 101st Airborne Camp

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KUWAIT CITY (AP) -- A U.S. soldier was detained Sunday on suspicion of throwing grenades into three tents at a 101st Airborne command center in Kuwait, killing one fellow serviceman and wounding 15, at least three of them seriously.

The motive in the attack "most likely was resentment," said Max Blumenfeld, a U.S. Army spokesman.

The soldier in custody was identified Sunday as Sgt. Asan Akbar of the 326th Engineer Battalion. Fort Campbell, Ky., spokesman George Heath said Akbar had not been charged with any crime. He did not release Akbar's hometown or say how long he had been in the service.

Heath said Akbar had been "having what some might call an attitude problem."

Fort Campbell is the home base for the storied 101st Airborne Division.

"Incidents of this nature are abnormalities throughout the Army, specifically in the 101st," Heath said. "Death is a tragic incident regardless of how it comes, but when it comes from a fellow comrade, it does even more to hurt morale. Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of the soldier. We pray that incidents of this nature do not happen again in any military organization."

In Washington, a spokesman for the Pentagon said only that the attack was under investigation.

Initially, the military suspected the attack was the work of terrorists using two grenades and small-arms fire, Heath said. Two Middle Eastern men who had been hired as contractors were detained and released.

An Interior Ministry official speaking on condition of anonymity said Sunday that Americans still were investigating all locally contracted workers in the camp, such as cleaners, drivers and volunteer translators. Two Kuwaiti translators also were questioned and released.

"When this all happened we tried to get accountability for everybody," Col. Frederick B. Hodges, commander of the division's 1st Brigade, told Britain's Sky News television. "We noticed four hand grenades were missing and that this sergeant was unaccounted for."

Akbar was found hiding in a bunker, Hodges said.

The attack happened in the command center of the 101st Division's 1st Brigade at Camp Pennsylvania at 1:30 a.m. (5:30 p.m. EST Saturday). The commander learned of the attack when a sergeant woke him up.

"I immediately smelled smoke," Hodges told Sky News. "I heard a couple of explosions and then a popping sound which I think was probably a rifle being fired. It looks like some assailant threw a grenade into each of these three tents here."

One grenade went off in the command tent, said Blumenfeld, the Army spokesman. The tent, the tactical operations center, runs 24 hours a day and would always be staffed by officers and senior enlisted personnel.

Ten of the injured had superficial wounds, including punctures to their arms and legs from grenade fragments, Heath said. Names of the wounded also were not released, and the Army did not say if any high-ranking officers were hurt.

The 101st Airborne is a rapid deployment group trained to go anywhere in the world within 36 hours. The roughly 22,000 members of the 101st were deployed Feb. 6. The last time the entire division was deployed was during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, which began after Iraq invaded neighboring Kuwait.

Most recently, the 101st hunted suspected Taliban and al-Qaida fighters in the mountains of Afghanistan. Its exploits are followed in Kentucky with much pride.

Camp Pennsylvania is a rear base camp of the 101st, near the Iraqi border. Kuwait is the main launching point for the tens of thousands of ground forces -- including parts of the 101st -- who have entered Iraq.

News of the attack at the camp compounded the anxiety of relatives of the division's soldiers.

"I get a little worried but when I think I should be crying, I'm not," said Chelsey Payne of Clarksville, Tenn., whose husband, Sgt. Robert Payne, is with the division. "I just don't get scared about my own husband, I just know that he's a good soldier and he's coming home. He promised me."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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