RICHMOND, Va. — A former Russian military tank commander who was convicted of leading an attack on U.S. forces in Afghanistan was sentenced Thursday to life in prison.

A federal jury in August found Irek Hamidullin guilty of all 15 counts of terror-related charges, including providing material support to terrorism, attempting to destroy U.S. aircraft and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction.

Unlike the hundreds of other cases involving terror suspects in the U.S. since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Hamidullin was a combatant captured on the battlefield, not a financier, recruiter or schemer arrested outside the theater of war.

That raised questions about whether he should be considered a prisoner of war, and prosecuted by a military tribunal instead of a civilian court. The judge ultimately allowed the case to move forward, arguing that that Hamidullin wasn't a lawful combatant because the Taliban and its affiliated groups lack a clearly defined command structure and don't adhere to the laws and customs of war.

Prosecutors had asked the judge to impose a life sentence, citing the need to protect the public.

Hamidullin told FBI agents that as long as Americans forces remained in Afghanistan, "if he met them or other Americans on the street, he would be obligated by his religion to kill them," prosecutors said in court documents.

"Thus the defendant is one who not only has the will to do violence himself, but perhaps more dangerously, has the ability and the desire to enlist others to engage in violence," they said.

Hamidullin's attorney, Robert Wagner, had argued for a 30-year-term with supervised release, which he called a "defacto life sentence" for the man.

Wagner noted in court documents that his client cooperated with investigators and argued that Hammidullin didn't commit an act of terrorism, but a "lawful act of war." He also accused the government in court documents of trying to make an example out of Hamidullin because he's a "'low hanging fruit'" and an "easy target for the government."

Hamidullin is a veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan who stayed in the country and joined the Haqqani Network, a Taliban-affiliated militant group, U.S. officials said.

He allegedly led three groups of insurgents in a 2009 attack on Afghan border police in Khost province. When U.S. helicopters responded to the attack, the insurgents tried to fire at them with anti-aircraft weapons, which malfunctioned, prosecutors say. The insurgents were virtually wiped out, while the coalition forces sustained no casualties.

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