AMMAN: A Jordanian soldier charged with killing three U.S. Army Green Berets told a military court Tuesday that he opened fire because he thought fellow Jordanian troops had come under attack but that he felt no resentment toward Americans.
The defendant, 1st Sgt. Marik al-Tuwayha, took the stand for the first time in his murder trial. He spoke in a low voice from a cage in the courtroom, his hands gripping the bars.
Tuwayha has pleaded “not guilty” to murder charges in the November shooting of the U.S. military trainers who had come under fire at the gate of an air base in southern Jordan. The judge has said the defendant has no apparent ties to terrorist groups.
Jordan is a U.S. ally in the region, including in the campaign against Daesh (ISIS) extremists who control areas of neighboring Syria and Iraq.
The shooting at the Al-Jafr air base appeared to strain those ties at one point.
Jordanian officials initially suggested the U.S. soldiers triggered the shooting by disobeying orders of Jordanian troops guarding the gate to the base.
Jordan later withdrew the claim.
In previous sessions, the court heard testimony from gate guards, a crime scene investigator and a forensics expert.
Tuwayha said Tuesday that he felt no resentment toward the Americans at the base, and that he had joked and chatted with them over tea in the past. His comments were barely audible, and the judge repeated them for the court.
Witnesses have said that a four-car convoy approached the entrance of the base sometime before noon on Nov. 4.
The first vehicle passed through an outer and an inner gate, entering the base safely. Three more vehicles carrying U.S. troops stood between the outer and inner gate when Jordanian gate guards said they heard a low sound, possibly a pistol shot, from the direction of the convoy.
Three of the gate guards said they held their fire after hearing the pistol because they couldn’t identify the exact source of the sound.
At the time, the defendant was in the guardhouse, close to the inner barrier, to recharge the battery of his wireless device, witnesses have said.
Tuwayha said Tuesday he heard a pistol shot coming from the direction of the American convoy. He said he could not determine the exact source of the sound because he couldn’t see from inside the guardhouse.
He said he opened fire because he feared that his colleagues were coming under attack. He said he initially opened fire from inside the guardhouse, believing he was complying with rules of engagement. He said he didn’t aim at anything or anyone and had “no intention of killing anyone.”
If convicted, Tuwayha faces life in prison.