The victims — Staff Sgt. Matthew C. Lewellen, 27, of Kirksville, Mo.; Staff Sgt. Kevin J. McEnroe, 30, of Tucson; and Staff Sgt. James F. Moriarty, 27, of Kerrville, Tex. — were killed shortly before noon on Nov. 4.
They were part of a four-vehicle convoy returning to the King Faisal air base outside the southern town of Al Jafr, after conducting weapons training at a nearby range, according to a United States military investigation that was completed March 7.
As the soldiers waited outside a gate to the base, Sergeant Tawayha opened fire with his M-16 rifle, killing Sergeant McEnroe and mortally wounding Sergeant Lewellen, who were both in the second vehicle of the convoy.
Sergeant Moriarty and another soldier got out of other vehicles and sought cover, according to the investigation. They tried to make clear that they were not a threat, but when the shooting continued, they returned fire. Sergeant Moriarty was fatally injured after he and Sergeant Tawayha exchanged fire. The fourth soldier, who survived, shot and seriously wounded Sergeant Tawayha.
The investigation concluded that the three soldiers “were properly trained, equipped and armed.” It found that all three had died honorably, in service to their country. It said that all three had been following “established procedures for entering the gate.”
The investigation found “no evidence that substantiates post-incident allegations and speculation that alcohol was involved,” and no evidence that “the Americans were the first ones to fire their weapons.”
Video footage of the firefight, which was shown to the bereaved relatives but has not been released to the public, emerged. Relatives said the video showed that the gunfight lasted about six minutes and that Sergeant Tawayha had reloaded and opened fire, even though the Americans waved their hands and yelled: “We’re Americans! We’re friendly.”
“We respect the Jordanian legal process,” said Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. “We are reassured to see that the perpetrator has been brought to justice.”
“Despite this tragedy, Jordan remains a strategic partner,” he added.
Eric Barbee, a spokesman for the United States Embassy in Amman, Jordan, which sent observers to the trial, said the proceedings “confirmed that the deceased U.S. service members followed all established procedures when accessing the base the day of the incident.” He added: “We are reassured to see the perpetrator brought to justice.”
However, the lack of a clear motivation for the killings has continued to trouble observers.
“Attacks on Americans are not only limited to ISIS,” said Amer Al Sabaileh, a political analyst on Middle Eastern affairs. “You might not find any trace between him and a terrorist organization, but maybe he had hatred toward America or something triggered it in him.”
While many Jordanians say they understand the need for their country’s security alliance with the United States, others are angered about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the American response to the Syrian civil war — all of which resulted in large flows of refugees to Jordan.
The violence was also particularly alarming because it echoed a November 2015 episode in which a Jordanian police captain killed two Americans, along with two fellow Jordanians and a South African, at a police training center in Amman, the capital. The deaths raised fears of rising extremism in a country that has largely resisted it.
Sergeant Tawayha said at his trial that he did not resent the American presence at the base. He is part of a tribe, the Howeitat, which on Monday issued a statement criticizing the court’s judgment.
“We condemn this ruling against this nation’s son, who was defending himself and his country and was shot by the Americans who refused to stop at the base,” the tribe said. “Is Arab blood cheap and American blood more worthy? This is an unjust ruling.”
The tribe is known in Jordan for its role in the Pan-Arab uprising that ended Ottoman rule and paved the way for the kingdom’s eventual independence.
Along with the prison sentence, the military judge, Col. Mohammed al-Afeef, ordered that Sergeant Tawayha be dismissed from the Army and that he pay 91 Jordanian dinars (about $128) for the bullets used to fire on the soldiers.
Source: New York Times