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Australian soldier charged with murder in Afghanistan released on bail

SYDNEY– A former elite soldier charged with murder for allegedly killing an unarmed man in Afghanistan was released on bail on Tuesday by a magistrate who ruled he would face danger from Muslim extremists in prison.

Oliver Schulz, 41, had been in custody since his arrest in the rural New South Wales state last week on a war crime charge of murder.

His lawyer Phillip Boulten applied for bail in Sydney’s Downing Center Local Court on Monday, arguing that the former Special Air Service Regiment soldier faced serious risks to his personal safety from Muslim extremists in the prison system and had to be separated from other prisoners.

“Wherever this man is being held in prison, he is likely to mix with people in prison who sympathize with the Taliban or with other Islamists.

extremist groups,” Boulten said.

Magistrate Jennifer Atkinson granted the request, agreeing that the risks posed to her behind bars were too great.

“It is possible to infer that there may be people detained there who may take an unfavorable position in relation to what has been said to be the accused.

behavior both as a member of the (Australian Defense Force) and also on the day the incident allegedly occurred,” Atkinson told the court.

Schulz had been held in a maximum security prison in Goulburn, 200 kilometers (120 miles) southwest of Sydney. Most of New South Wales’ most convicted terrorists are held in Goulburn.

Helmet camera footage released by Australian Broadcasting Corp. in 2020 which were filmed in the Afghan province of Uruzgan in 2012 will form part of the prosecution case.

The footage allegedly shows Schulz shooting a local man, Papa Mohammad, three times as he lay on his back in a wheat field with his hands and knees raised. His father later filed a complaint with the Australian Defense Force alleging his son had been shot in the head.

Atkinson said that because of the murder allegation, Schulz would be in a “very difficult, even dangerous environment” in custody and that correctional staff may not be available 24 hours a day to monitor him.

“I am of the opinion that the position in which the defendant finds himself could be worse than that of others in pre-trial detention given the particular risks to his safety,” she said.

Schulz would also have difficulty giving advice to his lawyers and accessing confidential documents under strict conditions due to national security concerns surrounding the case if he were forced to do so behind bars, Atkinson said.

The court removed the names of the town and region where Schulz lives to protect his family from threats.

After footage of the shooting in Afghanistan was released nationally, then Defense Minister Linda Reynolds referred the allegation to the Australian Federal Police.

Schulz was suspended from duty in 2020 and then discharged from the Australian Defense Force on medical grounds.

Schulz, who received the Commendation for Bravery for his service in Afghanistan, is the first former or serving member of the Australian Defense Force to face a war crime murder charge under domestic law.

He faces a life sentence if convicted.

He is among 19 current and former Australian Special Forces soldiers who a war crimes investigation has found could face charges of unlawful conduct in Afghanistan.

A military report released in 2020 after a four-year investigation found evidence that Australian troops unlawfully killed 39 Afghan prisoners, farmers and civilians.

More than 39,000 Australian servicemen served in Afghanistan in the 20 years before the 2021 withdrawal, and 41 were killed there.


For more on AP’s Asia-Pacific coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/asia-pacific

ABC News

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