A U.S. soldier stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, was arrested and jailed Wednesday on a murder charge in the death of an Iraqi civilian in January.
Staff Sgt. Shane Werst, 31, of El Toro, Calif., is accused of killing the Iraqi man while serving with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team out of Fort Carson, Colo.
He is also charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly trying to get his comrades to lie about what happened to Naser Ismail after the Iraqi man was taken into custody in Balad on Jan. 3.
Werst is one of a number of Fort Carson-based soldiers charged with crimes in Iraq.
Two other members of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team face trial for manslaughter in the drowning of an Iraqi man who soldiers reportedly pushed off a bridge into the Tigris River in January.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington, chief spokesman for the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood, said charges were filed against Werst within days after another soldier came forward to report the alleged incident.
"It happened almost a year ago, but the evidence just emerged and just became known to the division," Withington said. "The command immediately brought in (Army criminal investigators) and we're going to get to the bottom of it."
Withington said Ismail was taken into custody by Werst's unit during a building-by-building search in Balad.
He would not say how Ismail died or whether charges against other soldiers were expected.
"It is an open and active investigation," Withington said. "Currently we're focused on this specific soldier in this specific incident. Anything else would be speculation on my part."
Werst, who has been in the Army for nearly 14 years, is currently assigned to the 4th Infantry's Headquarters and Headquarters Company.
He was being held Wednesday at the Bell County jail in Belton because Fort Hood does not have its own lockup.
Withington said a hearing will be held within a week to determine whether Werst will be released or remain confined until his trial. No trial date has yet been set.
If convicted of murder, Werst could be sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole and dishonorable discharge. The obstruction of justice charge carries a maximum penalty of five years confinement, along with dishonorable discharge.
At least four other Fort Carson soldiers face charges for alleged crimes in Iraq.
Sgt. 1st Class Tracy Perkins, 33, is scheduled for trial at Fort Hood next month on charges of manslaughter, conspiracy, assault and lying to investigators stemming from the alleged drowning of an Iraqi civilian in Samarra.
Perkins and 1st Lt. Jack Saville, both part of the 3rd Brigade Strike Team, are accused of pushing two Iraqis off a bridge into the Tigris River as punishment for violating curfew. Perkins is also charged with assault for a similar incident near Balad in December.
Saville, a 24-year-old West Point graduate, will be tried in January.
Three officers in Saville's chain of command have already been punished for actions they took to cover up the Samarra incident. The Army said punishment for Lt. Col. Nathan Sassaman, Maj. Robert Gwinner and Capt. Matthew Cunningham did not include jail time.
Fort Carson is also home to the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, two of whose troops were charged in October with "unauthorized treatment of Iraqi individuals" for a reported incident near Ar Rutbah between May and July.
Capt. Shawn L. Martin is charged with three counts of assault, five counts of aggravated assault, obstruction of justice and conduct unbecoming an officer. Staff Sgt. Ceolia J. Turner is charged with assault and aggravated assault with a loaded firearm.
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