- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2001

A federal grand jury in Alexandria, Va., yesterday indicted 13 Saudi militants and a Lebanese chemist in the 1996 attack of the Khobar Towers apartment complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 U.S. servicemen and injured 373 others.
Attorney General John Ashcroft, who announced the indictment at an afternoon press conference, said the 14 suspected terrorists were charged with murder, attempted murder of federal employees, conspiracy to commit murder, and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction in the June 25, 1996, bombing.
Mr. Ashcroft said the defendants included the leader of the Saudi Hezbollah terrorist organization, Abdel Karim Nasser; the head of the groups military wing, Ahmed Mughassil; along with members of terrorist cells in Saudi Arabia who planned and carried out the attack.
None of the 14 suspects is in U.S. custody, although some are being held in other countries. FBI Director Louis J. Freeh said authorities are "pursuing discussions along the lines of getting access" to the suspects, although he did not elaborate.
The attorney general also linked the bombing to Iranian government officials.
"The indictment explains that elements of the Iranian government inspired, supported and supervised members of Saudi Hezbollah," Mr. Ashcroft said. "In particular, the indictment alleges that the charged defendants reported their surveillance activities to Iranian officials and were supported and directed in those activities by Iranian officials."
The 29-page indictment does not name as criminal defendants individual members of the Iranian government, although Mr. Ashcroft said the case was brought against the 14 defendants because "as with any criminal case, [this] is what we believe we can prove in a court of law."
The United States has long believed the Iranian government has actively endorsed and supported international terrorism. Iran has denied any role in the 1996 attack.
President Bush, in a statement, applauded the investigative work of both the Justice Department and the FBI, and offered his thanks to the Saudi government for its assistance in the case.
"For the last five years, the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have conducted an intensive investigation of this deplorable act of terrorism," Mr. Bush said. "I applaud the work of the Department of Justice and the FBI who have spent countless hours pursuing this case. And I want to thank the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for their assistance in this investigation.
"Finally, and most important, to the families of those who were killed and to those who were injured, I want to extend my personal sympathy and to assure you that your government will not forget your loss and will continue working, based on the evidence, to make sure that justice is done," he said.
One of those named in the indictment was Hani Abdel Rahim Hussein Sayegh, a Saudi national deported to his homeland in 1999 after backing out of an agreement with the Justice Department to admit to a felony charge in an unrelated bombing in exchange for information in the Khobar attack.
He had fought the extradition, telling U.S. authorities he would be beheaded if returned to Saudi Arabia.
Those charged with conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction resulting in the deaths of the U.S. servicemen face the death penalty if convicted.
U.S. Attorney Ken Melson, the prosecutor in the case, told reporters he was looking forward "to working with our Saudi partners and law enforcement around the world to apprehend the fugitives and to bring all these defendants to justice."
According to the indictment, terrorist activities leading to the 1996 Khobar blast began as early as 1993 when members of Hezbollah began extensive surveillance to find American targets in Saudi Arabia. In 1995, the indictment said, the terrorists focused on Khobar Towers, which housed U.S. Air Force personnel assigned to the Gulf region.
After amassing large amounts of plastic explosives, the indictment said, the terrorists assisted by an as-yet unidentified member of Lebanese Hezbollah, a chemist referred to only as "John Doe" converted a tanker truck into "a huge bomb," which was detonated near the north face of the Khobar complex at about 10 p.m.
The truck contained at least 5,000 pounds of plastic explosives, the indictment said. The bomb was larger than the one used by Timothy McVeigh to destroy the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
Mr. Ashcroft called the indictment "an important milestone" in the case and said the investigation would continue until the government can "bring additional charges as appropriate."
The attorney general noted that the indictment was handed up by the grand jury "at a time of both legal and personal significance in this case." He said many of the charges arising out of the Khobar attack, if not filed promptly, might have become impossible under the statute of limitations on the fifth anniversary of the attack, which is Monday.
"Of course, as a personal matter for the victims and for their families, the indictment filed today means that next weeks five-year anniversary of this tragedy will come with some assurance to victim family members and to the wounded that they are not and will not be forgotten," Mr. Ashcroft said
"Americans are a high-priority target for terrorists, and our nation will vigorously fight to preserve justice for our citizens both here at home as well as abroad," he said.
Mr. Freeh also said the investigation remained open and vowed the FBI would pursue it "to ensure that all those responsible are ultimately brought to justice."
He declined to comment why charges had not been sought against Iranian officials, but said as a former prosecutor "everyone who could be charged based on the sufficiency of the evidence has been charged."
"That does not mean, however, that our investigation is over or that this indictment cant be amended or superseded if we reach the threshold of evidence which would be required to address additional subjects," he said.

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