SYDNEY (AP): A former elite soldier charged with murder for allegedly killing an unarmed man in Afghanistan was released on bail Tuesday by a magistrate who concluded he would face danger from Muslim extremists in prison.
Oliver Schulz, 41, had been in custody since his arrest in rural New South Wales state last week on the war crime of murder.
His lawyer Phillip Boulten applied for bail in Sydney’s Downing Center Local Court on Monday, arguing the former Special Air Service Regiment trooper faced serious risks to his personal safety from Muslim extremists in the prison system and had to be segregated from other inmates.
“Wherever this man is going to be held in prison, he is likely to have to mix with people in prison who sympathize with the Taliban or with other Islamic extremist groups,” Boulten said.
Magistrate Jennifer Atkinson granted the request, agreeing the risks posed to him while behind bars were too great.
“It’s possible to infer that there may be some people being held there who may take an adverse position in relation to what was said to be the accused’s behavior both as a member of the (Australian Defense Force) and also on the day the incident allegedly occurred,” Atkinson told the court.
Schulz had been held at a maximum-security prison in Goulburn, 200 kilometers southwest of Sydney. Most of New South Wales’ worst convicted terrorists are held at Goulburn.
Helmet camera footage aired by Australian Broadcasting Corp. in 2020 that was shot in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan Province in 2012 will form part of the prosecution case.
The footage allegedly shows Schulz shoot local man Dad Mohammad three times as he lay on his back in a wheat field with his hands and knees raised. His father later made a complaint to the Australian Defense Force alleging his son had been shot in the head.
Atkinson said that because of the murder allegation, Schulz would be in a “very difficult if not dangerous environment” in custody and correctional staff could not be available 24 hours a day to supervise him.
“I am of the view that the position the accused finds himself in could be worse than other persons who are on remand given the particular security risks to his person,” she said.
Schulz would also have difficulties giving advice to his lawyers and accessing confidential material under strict conditions due to national security concerns surrounding the case if he were forced to do so behind bars, Atkinson said.
The court has suppressed the names of the town and region where Schulz lives to protect his family from threats.
After footage of the Afghanistan shooting was broadcast nationally, the then-Defense Minister Linda Reynolds referred the allegation to the Australian Federal Police.
Schulz was suspended from duty in 2020 and later discharged from the Australia Defense Force on medical grounds.
Schulz, who was awarded the Commendation for Gallantry for his service in Afghanistan, is the first former or serving Australian Defense Force member to face a war crime charge of murder under domestic law.
He faces a potential life sentence in prison if convicted.
He is among 19 current and former Australian special forces soldiers who a war crimes investigation found could face charges for illegal conduct in Afghanistan.
A military report released in 2020 after a four-year investigation found evidence that Australian troops unlawfully killed 39 Afghan prisoners, farmers and civilians.
More than 39,000 Australian military personnel served in Afghanistan during the 20 years until the 2021 withdrawal, and 41 were killed there.