An Army private who was shot and killed by a self-described al-Qaida foot soldier outside a military recruiting station in Arkansas did not receive a Purple Heart because lawyers decided the incident was not an act of international terrorism or act of war.
Pvt. William Long’s death in June 2009 does not qualify for the medal because the Justice Department opted not to prosecute the killing as an attack on the military by an enemy combatant, according to a spokeswoman for Army Secretary John McHugh.
“In this case, civilian law enforcement authorities, which have exclusive jurisdiction over the prosecution of this senseless act, determined that it should be treated as a crime and prosecuted by the State of Arkansas,” said Lt. Col. Anne Edgecomb, a spokeswoman for McHugh.
“This determination precluded the award of the Purple Heart to these great soldiers under the current award criteria. If this changes, the Army will be pleased to conduct an appropriate review at that time,” Edgecomb said.
Long’s family and several lawmakers on Capitol Hill say the 23-year-old soldier deserves the medal because he was killed in an attack on the U.S. military by the same type of Islamic extremists that troops are fighting in Afghanistan. A second soldier was wounded in the Little Rock shooting.
The Purple Heart is awarded to troops wounded or killed in “any action against an enemy of the United States” or through action of international terrorism,” according to Army regulations.
The Army’s denial of the medal highlights the nuanced criteria that leaders apply to domestic incidents involving radicalized Muslims.
Numerous troops injured in the attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, received Purple Hearts. Yet no medals were awarded to those troops killed or injured in the shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, in November 2009, when witnesses say the alleged shooter, Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, shouted “Allahu Akbar” during the killings and was known to have had contacts with radical Islamic clerics.
Military officials say domestic terrorist plots targeting military bases and military communities are on the rise. Long’s killer, an American-born Muslim convert named Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, told police after his arrest that “it’s a war going on against Muslims, and that is why I did it.”
A spokesman for the Justice Department said the door remains open to prosecuting Long’s killer in federal court.
“We congratulate the state prosecutors on a very successful prosecution. Because there is no statute of limitations for murder, the possibility of a federal prosecution still exists; however, it would not be appropriate to comment on this matter further,” Justice spokesman Dean Boyd said in a statement.
â€¢Â Bill would allow medals for 2 Ark. soldiersÂ (July 28, Army Times)
â€¢Â Purple Heart sought in recruiting station deathÂ (July 26, Army Times)