- The Washington Times - Friday, December 22, 2006

A federal judge in Washington yesterday blamed the Iranian government for the deaths of 19 members of the U.S. Air Force in a 1996 terrorist bombing in Saudi Arabia, allowing the victims’ families to seek more than $260 million in compensation from the Islamic regime in Tehran.

U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth ruled that the Iranian government, its Ministry of Information and Security and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) were liable for damages because they provided material support and assistance to Hezbollah, the terrorist organization that orchestrated and carried out the bombing.

The judge’s 209-page ruling is the first time a branch of the U.S. government has officially named the Iranian government responsible for the deaths. The ruling came in a lawsuit brought by the families of 17 of the 19 killed in the attack on the Khobar Towers near Dhahran on June 25, 1996.

Iran, which has denied any involvement in the bombing, has never responded to the lawsuit and is not expected to pay the damage judgment — although family members can seek payment from seized Iranian bank accounts.

In his ruling, Judge Lamberth said the attack was approved by Ayatollah Khameini, the supreme leader of Iran at the time, and had the support of the Iranian minister of intelligence and security, Ali Fallahian, who was involved in providing intelligence security support for the operation.

Judge Lamberth said the operation was carried out by people recruited principally by a senior official of the IRGC, Brig. Gen. Ahmed Sharifi, who was the operational commander.

The planning took place at the Iranian Embassy in Damascus, Syria, where Sharifi provided the passports, paperwork and funds for those involved, the judge said.

The truck bomb was assembled at a terrorist base in the Bekaa Valley, which was jointly operated by the IRGC and by Hezbollah, he said.

Much of the judge’s ruling is based on a massive FBI investigation of the attack, which involved more than 250 agents and was personally supervised by then-FBI Director Louis J. Freeh. That investigation led to a grand jury indictment in Virginia in June 2001 of 13 members of Hezbollah.

None of those indicted has ever been extradited to the United States for trial.

Judge Lamberth said the indictment’s description of the plot to bomb the Khobar Towers complex “frequently refers to direction and assistance” of Iranian government officials. He said the FBI also obtained “a great deal of information” linking the Iranian government to the bombing from interviews with six admitted members of Hezbollah.

“Louis Freeh has publicly and unequivocally stated his firm conclusion, based on evidence gathered by the FBI during their five-year investigation, that Iran was responsible for planning and supporting the Khobar Towers attack,” Judge Lamberth said in the ruling.

The U.S. military personnel were killed when a large gasoline tanker that had been parked alongside the perimeter wall of the Khobar Towers complex exploded. Although security guards near the building started to give warnings about the unusual vehicle in its location, the truck exploded with great force within about 15 minutes.

The investigation determined the force of the explosion was the equivalent of 20,000 pounds of TNT, and the Defense Department later said it was the largest nonnuclear explosion up to that time.

Those killed in the bombing were Capt. Christopher J. Adams, Tech. Sgt. Daniel B. Cafourek, Sgt. Millard D. Campbell, Airman Earl F. Carrette Jr., Tech. Sgt. Patrick P. Fennig, Capt. Leland T. Haun, Master Sgt. Michael G. Heiser, Staff Sgt. Kevin J. Johnson, Staff Sgt. Ronald L. King, Master Sgt. Kendall Kitson Jr., Airman Christopher Lester, Airman Brent E. Marthaler, Airman Brian W. McVeigh, Airman Peter J. Morgera, Tech. Sgt. Tranh V. Nguyen, Airman Joseph E. Rimkus, Airman Jeremy A. Taylor, Airman Justin R. Wood and Airman Joshua E. Woody.

They were part of a coalition of forces — primarily from the United States, Britain and France — charged with monitoring Iraq’s compliance with U.N. Security Council resolutions enforcing the cease-fire that had brought an end to the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

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