Pennsylvania National Guard soldiers who had served in Bayji in 2005 saw news reports about the two arrests, and Army Staff Sgt. Joshua Hedetniemi called the FBI to alert them to an Aug. 9, 2005, IED attack that killed four of their troopers in a humvee patrolling south of the town. The U.S. attorney's office in Louisville eventually placed the surviving soldiers in its victim notification system for the case, even though it couldn't be conclusively proven that Alwan and Hammadi had killed the Guardsmen.
The four Pennsylvania soldiers killed that day were Pfc. Nathaniel DeTample, 19, Spec. Gennaro Pellegrini, 31, Spec. Francis J. Straub Jr., 24, and Spec. John Kulick, 35.
"It was a somber moment for the platoon, we had a great deal of love and respect for those guys and it hit us pretty hard," Hedetniemi said in an interview in the Guard's armory near Philadelphia. "I think that these two individuals are innately evil to be able to act as a terrorist and attack and kill American soldiers, then have the balls to come over to the United States and try to do the same exact thing here in our homeland."
Confronted with all the evidence against them, Alwan and Hammadi agreed to plead guilty to supporting terrorism and admitted their al Qaeda-Iraq past. Alwan cooperated and received 40 years, while Hammadi received a life term which he is appealing. A hearing for Hammadi's appeal took place Tuesday in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Ohio.
"We need to take this as a case study and draw the right lessons from it, and not just high-five over this," said retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero, who headed the military's Joint IED Defeat Organization until last May. "How did a person who we detained in Iraq -- linked to an IED attack, we had his fingerprints in our government system -- how did he walk into America in 2009?"
Barbero is credited with leveraging the Kentucky case to help the FBI get funding to create a new state of the art fingerprint lab focused solely on its IED repository in a huge warehouse outside Washington. The new FBI lab assists counterterrorism investigations of suspected bombmakers and IED emplacers and looks for latent prints on 100,000 IED remnants collected over the past decade by the military and stored in the vast TEDAC warehouse.
The only man in the Humvee to survive the 2005 IED bombing in Bayji, Daniel South, who is now an Army Black Hawk helicopter pilot in Texas, said he was stunned to learn al Qaeda-Iraq insurgents were living in Kentucky -- but he's glad they were finally brought to justice for attacking U.S. troops in Iraq.
"I kind of wish that we had smoked [Alwan] when it happened, but we didn't have that opportunity so I guess this is second best," South told ABC News.