News Witness in Ben Roberts-Smith case says slain man not linked to Taliban

Witness in Ben Roberts-Smith case says slain man not linked to Taliban

Ben Roberts-Smith
A former SAS patrol commander has testified a soldier reported being bullied by Ben Roberts-Smith. Photo: AAP
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An Afghan villager has told Ben Roberts-Smith’s defamation trial he saw a “big soldier” kick his relative into a river bed, then later found the man shot dead in a field.

War hero Ben Roberts-Smith, 42, is suing three newspapers over their reporting of the alleged murder in Darwan in Afghanistan in 2012 and other claims in articles from 2018 he alleges paint him as a war criminal.

The Darwan allegation centres on whether Mr Roberts-Smith kicked a handcuffed villager named Ali Jan off a small cliff during an SAS operation on September 11, 2012.

It is also alleged Ali Jan was then dragged across a creek bed into a cornfield and shot.

Mr Roberts-Smith argues that Ali Jan was a Taliban spotter.

On Monday, a relative of Ali Jan, Mohammed Hanifa Fatih, told the Federal Court via audio-visual link from Kabul that he was with Ali Jan when foreign soldiers arrived in Darwan in helicopters as part of a raid on the area.

Mr Fatih told the court in Sydney that during the raid a “big soldier” in a wet uniform asked him where rogue Afghan soldier Hekmatalluh was and punched him “many times, many times”.

“I told the interpreter, is this big soldier asking me questions or beating me? At that time the big soldier kicked me,” Mr Fatih told the court via a Pashto interpreter.

He told the court he was less than two metres from Ali Jan, who had his hands tied behind his back, when he told his relative not to smile or laugh because the soldiers didn’t like it.

“At this time the big soldier he came, he said something to him and then Ali Jan smiled, then he said something and came and kicked him really hard,” Mr Fatih told the court.

“What did Mohammed Hanifa see after that happened?” the respondents’ barrister Nicholas Owens SC asked the interpreter to relay to the witness.

“He was rolling down, rolling down until he reached the river … the soldier was looking at him, he was standing there and looking at him,” Mr Fatih replied.

Ali Jan was dragged by two soldiers to a berry tree and then there were “shots everywhere”, Mr Fatih said.

“After that I don’t know what happened,” he said.

He said he later observed Ali Jan’s dead body with gunshot wounds, but rejected that there was a “wireless device” near the corpse.

Mr Fatih said Ali Jan did not have a radio on the day.

“By God, by God he had nothing with him … they have put that equipment with him,” Mr Fatih said.

Under cross-examination, the witness accepted that he didn’t see Ali Jan get shot but denied lying about seeing him being taken to the berry tree.

“I told you that I saw Ali Jan being dragged to those trees,” he told Mr Roberts-Smith’s counsel Bruce McClintock SC.

Earlier, Mr Fatih told the court that Ali Jan owned some cattle, sold wood and used water from a spring to irrigate fields.

The court heard Mr Fatih grew up with Ali Jan as a child and that they would visit each other’s houses that were about three hours apart by walking in Darwan.

The witness could not remember the year of the incident but told the court it was about eight years ago in the summertime when corn and almonds were in season.

He said that Ali Jan was not a Taliban or a fighter, but was someone “providing for his children” and protecting his family and property.

The trial continues on Tuesday before Justice Anthony Besanko.