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US airman accused of insider attack in Syria cleared of all charges

Four US service members were wounded in the April 7, 2022 attack.
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david dezwaan insider attack syria
Then-Staff Sgt. David Dezwaan, 60th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal technician, inspects the wiring of a simulated radioactive dispersal device during an exercise May 5, 2016, at Clear Lake, California. (Senior Airman Bobby Cummings/U.S. Air Force)

An Air Force noncommissioned officer who was accused of launching an insider attack in Syria that wounded four fellow U.S. service members has been found not guilty of all charges stemming from the April 7, 2022 incident.

Tech. Sgt. David W. Dezwaan Jr. was recently found not guilty of dereliction of duty, destroying military property, reckless endangerment, and aggravated assault, according to a statement from Hill Air Force Base in Utah.

Dezwaan had been accused of making and setting off bombs at Green Village, Syria, where both U.S. troops and their allies from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) operate. At the time of the incident, Dezwaan was an explosive ordnance disposal technician deployed to Syria with the 75th Air Base Wing.

“I am grateful for the close collaboration with the leadership teams at Air Force Materiel Command and Hill Air Force Base over the duration of this case,” Lt.  Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, head of 9th Air Force (Air Forces Central), said in a statement. “We appreciate the efforts of everyone involved and continue to trust the Air Force’s judicial process.”

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Air Force Times first reported on Wednesday that Dezwaan had been found not guilty of the charges against him.

A military panel of three enlisted service members and five officers acquitted Dezwaan of all charges on Wednesday after deliberating for about six hours, said retired Navy Cmdr. Philip Cave, one of Dezwaan’s defense attorneys.

Cave represented Dezwaan along with fellow civilian defense attorney Nathan P. Freeburg, an Army veteran;Marine Capt. Nathan Wiebenga; and Maj. Luke Gilhooly.

During Dezwaan’s court-martial, which began on March 6, Cave and the other defense attorneys argued that someone else at Green Village was responsible for the insider attack, Cave told Task & Purpose on Thursday.

When prosecutors presented video of a person whom they claimed to be Dezwaan allegedly preparing to carry out the attacks, Dezwaan’s defense team pointed out that the man in the video was wearing pants, while Dezwaan wore shorts around the time of the incident.

The defense team also showed the panel other video evidence that they argued reinforced their theory that someone else was responsible for the attack, Cave said.

david dezwaan insider attack syria
Then-Staff Sgt. David Dezwaan (left), and another airman, 60th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal technicians, conduct radioactive detection methods during an exercise May 5, 2016, at Clear Lake, California. (Senior Airman Bobby Cummings/U.S. Air Force)

While Cave did not say who specifically might have built and detonated the bombs, he noted that many members of the SDF had access to the U.S. side base.

“They were not vetted,” Cave said. “In fact, one of the witnesses that the defense called was a counterintelligence agent who was there in the field at the time, who expressed concerns prior to and up to the incident about the lack of vetting and accountability of the non-military personnel.”

Insider attacks launched by U.S. service members have been extremely rare since the end of the Vietnam War. Army Sgt, Hasan Akbar was sentenced to death in 2005 after being convicted of killing two officers in Kuwait. Army Maj. Nidal Hasan was sentenced to death in 2013 for killing 13 people and wounding 32 others at Fort Hood, Texas. 

More recently, on March 3, Army Pvt. Ethan Melzer was sentenced to 45 years in prison for planning to launch an attack on U.S. troops in Turkey. Melzer was a member of the  Order of Nine Angles, a neo-Nazi and Satanic organization which had praised both Adolf Hitler and al Qaida; prosecutors had argued that Melzer reached out to other members of the group as well as alleged members of al Qaida to plot an ambush of his own unit.

Dezwaan was accused of carrying out the attacks so that he could get injured and go home from his deployment roughly three weeks early, Cave said. Prosecutors also claimed Dezwaan, who was one of the four U.S. service members wounded by the explosions, had cut himself with a knife to appear as though he had suffered cuts from a blast.

But the prosecution’s theory about why Dezwaan allegedly took such extreme actions was a single Discord message that Dezwaan sent his wife, which he said he might try to come home sooner than scheduled by stubbing his toe, Cave said.

“To be clear, that was the only – only – evidence of that,” Cave said. “There was nothing in his emails, texts, on his computers, his cell phone – nothing where he made similar comments to co-workers or anybody at all. They were scrambling for a motive, and that was the best they could come up with.”

Within 30 minutes of being found not guilty of all charges, Dezwaan was released from custody after spending roughly 260 days in pretrial confinement, Cave said.

“He’s happy to be home, as you can imagine,” said Cave, who added that his client would not provide a statement for this story.

It is unclear whether the Air Force will allow Dezwaan to remain in the service, Cave said. Dezwaan was initially charged with obtaining classified information, but that charge was dropped before his court-martial.

However, the Air Force could still try to use that accusation against Dezwaan as a way to separate him, Cave said.

“Certainly, his Air Force career is in doubt,” he said.

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