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'Russian Taliban' Gets Life In Prison For Afghanistan Attack

Artist rendering shows Irek Hamidullin, front center, his attorney Robert Wagner, front left, and interpreter Ihab Samra, front right, as judge Henry Hudson, left, listens in Federal Court in Richmond, Virginia, in November 2014.

A former Russian military tank commander has been sentenced to life in prison for leading a Taliban attack on U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

A U.S. federal jury in August found Irek Hamidullin, dubbed the Russian Taliban, guilty on 15 counts ranging from providing material support to terrorism, to attempting to destroy U.S. aircraft and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction.

Before a judge in Richmond, Virginia, handed down his sentence on December 3, Hamidullin criticized the U.S presence in Afghanistan and accused the government of targeting him in order to send a message to the Russians, the Associated Press reported.

"You accuse me of terrorism. That is a lie. I am doing what Jesus Christ told us to do," said Hamidullin, 55, speaking in Russian through a translator.

"I do not acknowledge your law. I do not acknowledge this court. I despise it," he said in a rambling, 15-minute speech.

Hamidullin, who is on a hunger strike but hasn't completely refused food, appeared pale and thin and was brought into court in a wheelchair.

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

He allegedly led Taliban insurgents in a 2009 attack on Afghan border police in Khost Province. When U.S. helicopters responded, the insurgents tried to fire at them with antiaircraft weapons that malfunctioned, prosecutors say. The coalition forces sustained no casualties.

Prosecutors had asked the judge to impose a life sentence on Hamidullin, citing the need to protect the public. Hamidullin's attorney, Robert Wagner, had argued for a 30-year-term with supervised release.

Wagner noted that his client cooperated with investigators and argued that Hammidullin didn't commit an act of terrorism but a "lawful act of war."

His attorneys plan to appeal.

With reporting by AP and AFP