Two Afghan evacuees who were living at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin have been arrested in unrelated cases. One was charged with crimes against minors, the other with assaulting his wife, the Justice Department announced Wednesday.
Bahrullah Noori, 20, has been indicted on four charges that allege he engaged in sexual acts with minors. According to court documents, Noori touched the genitals of one victim in three separate instances, once using force, in the barracks and bathroom at Fort McCoy. The indictment also alleges that he tried to engage in an unspecified sexual act with another minor victim.
According to court documents, the victims were between 12 and 16 years old. A gender was not given for either.
In the other case, Mohammad Haroon Imaad, 32, allegedly assaulted and strangled his wife on Sept. 7. The woman, who is also an Afghan refugee and is identified only by initials in court papers, reported the alleged assault to soldiers on base, who then moved her to an all-female barracks.
The criminal complaint says that the woman told soldiers that her husband "beat me many times in Afghanistan to the point I lost vision in both eyes."
"She stated that she had been the victim of hitting, strangulation, verbal abuse as well as rape since arriving to Fort McCoy at the hands of Mohammad Imaad," the complaint says.
At one point, the woman told service members that she was concerned for the safety of her mother, who was living in an all-female barracks on base. Soldiers detained Imaad just outside the mother's room, court documents say.
Both men have been arraigned and are being detained at the Dane County Jail, according to the Justice Department.
The incidents appear to be the first instances of significant crimes on U.S. soil by any of the more than 60,000 Afghan evacuees, many of whom worked with U.S. service members in Afghanistan, who are making their way into the country.
The Department of Defense has, in the past, dealt with instances of child sexual abuse perpetrated by Afghan people who worked closely with U.S. forces. A 2017 Inspector General report found that troops were effectively told to ignore any child sexual abuse they encountered.
"DoD cultural-awareness training for U.S. personnel deploying to Afghanistan and two Human Terrain System Reports identified child sexual abuse as a culturally accepted practice in Afghanistan," the report said.
Meanwhile, a 2018 UN report noted that violence against women had been “widespread throughout Afghanistan, notwithstanding the Government’s concrete efforts to criminalise these practices and establish measures for accountability.”
The UN report noted that Afghanistan had an underlying cultural norm that sexual and domestic violence were “private family matters” and, as a result, reporting of incidents was rare. The report also concluded that “that the vast majority of murder and ‘honour killings’ of women resulted in impunity for the perpetrator.
News of the arrests comes amid broader concerns for the health and safety of the refugees at Fort McCoy. John Kirby, the Department of Defense's chief spokesman, said that officials are aware of reports that refugees lack food and clothing, as well as alleged harassment of women by former Afghan soldiers.
"I know of no specific request today to conduct an investigation, but the secretary is certainly mindful of the reports," Kirby said Wednesday. "We're certainly aware of these reports ... and we take it very, very seriously."
U.S. Reps. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., and Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., have called on Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to investigate possible mistreatment or neglect at Fort McCoy.
If convicted, Noori faces a mandatory minimum penalty of 30 years and a maximum of life in federal prison on the charge alleging use of force, and a maximum penalty of 15 years on the other charges, according to the Justice Department.
Imaad faces a maximum penalty of 10 years.
-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.