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US soldier sentenced to death in '03 attack

Barrage killed two colleagues

FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- A military jury sentenced a soldier to death yesterday for a grenade and rifle attack on his comrades during the opening days of the Iraq invasion, a barrage that killed two officers and that prosecutors said was driven by religious extremism.

Sergeant Hasan Akbar, who gave a brief, barely audible apology hours earlier, stood at attention between his lawyers as the verdict was delivered. He showed no emotion.

He could have been sentenced to life in prison with or without parole for the March 2003 attack, which also wounded 14 fellow members of the Army's 101st Airborne Division.

The 15-person military jury, which last week took 2Æ hours to convict Akbar of premeditated murder and attempted premeditated murder, deliberated for about seven hours in the sentencing phase. After jurors reached a verdict, they voted on whether to reconsider the decision after one juror asked that they do so.

The sentence will be automatically appealed. If Akbar is executed, it would be by lethal injection.

''I want to apologize for the attack that occurred. I felt that my life was in jeopardy, and I had no other options. I also want to ask you for forgiveness," Akbar, 34, told the jury before it deliberated in the sentencing phase.

While the defense lawyers contend Akbar was too mentally ill to plan the attack, they have not disputed that he threw grenades into troop tents in the early morning darkness and then fired on soldiers in the ensuing chaos. Army Captain Christopher S. Seifert, 27, and Air Force Major Gregory Stone, 40, were killed.

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