Inquest into deaths at hands of rogue soldier opens

A CORONIAL inquest into the deaths of three Australian soldiers in Afghanistan has opened in Brisbane.

Lance Corporal Stjepan Milosevic, 40, Sapper James Martin, 21, and Private Robert Poate, 23, were killed in September 2012 after a rogue Afghan solider opened fire on them while they were playing cards at Patrol Base Wahab, about 30km north of the Oruzgan provincial capital Tarin Kowt.

Another two soldiers were wounded in the attack.

The Afghan soldier responsible for the soldiers' murders, Hekmatullah, was tried in a secret court on Christmas Eve last year in the capital Kabul.

Hekmatullah was charged with three counts of murder, causing grievous bodily harm, involvement and liaison with a terrorist organisation and treason.

He has been sentenced to death over the shocking crimes, but still has two levels of appeals he can exhaust before his execution can be carried out.

Deputy State Coroner John Lock opened the inquest today in the Brisbane Coroners Court and conveyed his sympathies to the three families who were in the court.

"I met with the families of the three soliders on Thursday afternoon to personally offer my condolences," he said.

"I believe it is also fitting that I place those condolences on the public record."

Counsel Assisting the Coroner Dr Anthony Marinac told the court the three men were killed after Hekmatullah fired 20 to 25 rounds with an M16 assault rifle into the room where the soldiers were before fleeing.

"The gunman was fired upon by Afghan guards, but he was able to escape successfully," he said.

"After the shooting the Australians received battle field first aid before being evacuated by helicopter.

"I think I might say your honour without any controversy the evacuation was very rapid and efficient and every effort was made to save the lives of the five soldiers who had been shot.

"Unfortunately Lance Corporal Milosevic, Private Poate and Sapper Martin were unable to be saved."

Dr Marinac said the Australian Defence Force had completed and investigation and report into the incident, but it had not been made public due to security concerns.

The report found there had been no security failings in relation to the incident, or in the lead-up, on the Australian Defence Force's behalf.

He said the full report had been made available to the court and also to the families.

Coroner Lock said there was an obvious national security interest in play which the inquest would have to navigate through.

He adjourned the inquest until April 14 and indicated the hearings would take place in either June or July this year.

Topics:  defence forces

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