US sergeant charged with murder of officers in Iraq

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The Independent Online

A US Army sergeant has been charged with murdering two officers in the first alleged case of 'fragging" since the start of the Iraq war.

A US Army sergeant has been charged with murdering two officers in the first alleged case of 'fragging" since the start of the Iraq war.

Alberto Martinez, 37, is being held in a military jail in Kuwait after being charged with the premeditated killing of Cpt Phillip Esposito and Lt Louis Allen. The three men served with the 42nd Infantry Division, a reserve unit drawn from the New York National Guard.

A statement issued by the Pentagon said the officers were killed by a blast in Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein, on 7 June. Initial inquiries suggested an enemy mortar blast was responsible, but further investigations found circumstances "inconsistent with a mortar attack". The Pentagon has declined to provide further details.

The case is the first of its kind involving US troops in Iraq, although in April another army sergeant was convicted of fragging (military slang for killing a senior officer). Hasan Akbar killed two officers in March 2003 by rolling grenades into their tent on the Kuwait border as they prepared for the invasion. He has been sentenced to death, the first US soldier convicted of murdering a colleague in war since Vietnam.

A neighbour of Sgt Martinez in Troy, New York, said he had just lost his home to a fire and moved to his childhood home. His mother had died in recent years, the neighbour said.

The bodies of the two dead men have been returned to their families. Lt Allen was buried in Milford, Pennsylvania, where he lived. Denis Petrilak, head teacher at the George Baker High School, where the officer had taught science for the past five years, said: "Today we're just focused on Lieutenant Allen."

Cpt Esposito's mother said her son's wife, Siobhan, and 18-month-old daughter, Madeline, deserved to know the details of his death. He had wanted to be a soldier since he was a boy, she said.

A family friend, Barry Lennihan, said he was a "very, very solid individual". He said Cpt Esposito had attended space camp as a boy and might have been an astronaut if not for imperfect eyesight.

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