LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A U.S. congressman planned to file legislation Thursday that could make two soldiers who were shot outside a military recruiting station in Arkansas eligible for the Purple Heart.
Republican Rep. Tim Griffin of Arkansas said the soldiers, Pvt. William Andrew Long and Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula, should be treated as if they were in a combat zone. That would mean Long, who died in the 2009 shooting, and Ezeagwula, who still has shrapnel in his body, would qualify for the military honor.
"An individual killed a U.S. soldier because he was a U.S. soldier and he did it in retaliation for U.S. policy like a terrorist would do..." Griffin said. "It ought to be treated the same as if he was killed in Afghanistan or Iraq."
The Army has said the young men don't merit the award, which is usually reserved for U.S. troops wounded or killed in combat. Lt. Col. Laurel Devine didn't immediately respond to a message seeking comment Thursday.
Griffin's proposal, to be filed Thursday afternoon, comes days after the murder trial of Abdulhakim Muhammad ended abruptly with a plea deal. Muhammad told The Associated Press that he shot the two soldiers in retaliation for U.S. military action in the Middle East. Prosecutors agreed to take the death penalty off the table Monday and a judge sentenced Muhammad to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Long's parents have said their son and Ezeagwula deserve the Purple Heart and sent a hefty report to the Secretary of the Army and the AP detailing the reasons why.
"Andy was the first person killed and Quinton was the first person wounded on American soil in a jihad attack since 9/11," said Long's father, Daris Long.
Long's family and the Ezeagwulas have struggled to convince the military and the federal government that the two were victims of the global war on terror, not merely a random act of violence.
No federal charges have been filed in the case, though Muhammad has deemed himself a jihadist and professed ties to al-Qaida. Cherith Beck, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney in Little Rock, declined to comment.
"If we get the Purple Heart, I'll be pleased, but I want answers from the federal government on why they're not pursuing this," Long said.
Griffin's office has been working with Long's family, but the congressman said he wanted to wait until the end of Muhammad's state trial before presenting legislation.
Jeannie Nuss can be reached at http://twitter.com/jeannienuss