WASHINGTON — Arkansas’ two U.S. senators jointly introduced legislation Thursday that would make two Army soldiers gunned down outside of a military recruiting center in Little Rock eligible to receive the Purple Heart.
Pvt. William Long of Conway was killed and Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula of Jacksonville was wounded when a gunman opened fire on them in 2009. Abdulhakim Muhammad, a convert to Islam from Memphis, Tenn., pleaded guilty to state charges and is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Since federal charges were not filed against Muhammad, the Army did not recognize the attack as an act of international terrorism. According to Army Regulations, in order to receive medals such as the Purple Heart, service members must be in either a combat zone or the victim of an international terror attack.
The two senators insist the Army was wrong and said they introduced the Honoring Ezeagwula and Long (HEAL) Act to correct an inequity. The measure would make military victims of domestic terrorist attacks eligible to receive the Purple Heart.
"Privates Long and Ezeagwula signed up to serve our country, and became targets of terrorism as a result. They deserve to be honored for their incredible sacrifice and service," Pryor said.
"This legislation will provide them with the rightful recognition they deserve for their selfless sacrifice," Boozman said.
The senators noted that Muhammad admitted his motivation for the shootings stemmed from the U.S. presence in the Middle East. After his religious conversion, he travelled to Yemen in 2007 where he was arrested by Yemeni authorities in 2008. Following his deportation from Yemen in 2009, he attacked the Little Rock recruiting center, killing Long and wounding Ezeagwula.
Long’s father, Daris Long of Conway, testified during a joint Senate-House homeland security hearing on homegrown terrorism in 2011.
The legislation introduced Thursday is the senators’ third try in passing the measure. Boozman and Pryor first introduced the HEAL Act in 2011 and introduced the bill as an amendment to the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act.