Survivors of a 1996 terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 U.S. servicemen are offended that an Iraqi official with ties to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was welcomed to the White House this week.
“Outrage at the visit to the White House really doesn’t describe what I feel,” said William M. Schooley, who survived the June 25, 1996, bombing of the Khobar Towers.
“I watched outstanding airmen die that night and witnessed horrific carnage. The survivors of Khobar Towers have been swept under the rug and now have received the greatest insult,” he added.
The Washington Times first reported Tuesday that Hadi Farhan al-Amiri, who serves as Iraq’s transportation minister, was part of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s delegation to the White House on Monday.
The FBI linked Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to the terrorist attack on the Khobar Towers. No Iranians were named in the indictment, and the Saudi Hezbollah was blamed for the blast.
The Revolutionary Guard also has supported Shiite militant groups that have attacked U.S. troops in Iraq, Western officials say.
Mr. Schooley was a staff sergeant in the Air Force when the Khobar Towers were bombed. He was in his room in a building behind the one that was blown up and immediately went to help.
“I cleared the path for the walking wounded to evacuate and then provided first aid to the wounded. Unfortunately, the airman I was working on did not survive. I don’t know how to put arms back on,” he said.
Mr. Schooley was medically retired from the Air Force for post-traumatic stress disorder and now lives in Albuquerque, N.M.
Another survivor of the attack, who was a senior airman at the time and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he feels betrayed that Mr. al-Amiri would be allowed into the White House.
“Given Hadi al-Amiri’s ties to terrorism and potential knowledge of those who committed the yet-unsolved FBI investigation into the brazen murder of 19 USAF airmen at Khobar Towers, his presence in the White House was nothing short of insulting to those who both lost family members and those who survived the horrific attack,” he said.
“It wouldn’t matter whether it was a Democrat or a Republican in the White House, it was just wrong.”
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican and chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Tuesday in a letter to President Obama that she had “grave concern” about the White House’s decision to host Mr. al-Amiri.
“Al-Amiri should have no part in a successful future in Iraq, and is unfit to receive a presidential audience,” Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen wrote.
Former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh this week said he was unaware of any evidence linking Mr. al-Amiri to the plot to attack the Khobar Towers. However, he said FBI agents would like to interview Mr. al-Amiri regarding what he knew of purported Iranian involvement in the plot.
As a commander of the Badr Corps, Mr. al-Amiri would have known Brig. Gen. Ahmad Sherifi, the Revolutionary Guard general who is suspected of conducting the attack, he added.
Mr. al-Amiri was commander of the Badr Corps, which was the armed wing of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
The Badr Corps was made up of thousands of defectors from the Iraqi army and refugees who fled Saddam Hussein’s regime. It received military and financial support from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
In 2003, the Badr Corps changed its name to the Badr Organization of Reconstruction and Development and pledged to disarm. Western officials and analysts are skeptical about whether the group kept its promise.
Mr. al-Amiri remained active in the Badr Corps during the late 1980s and 1990s, when he was working on resistance efforts against Saddam’s regime.
Eric Ziegler was an Air Force staff sergeant when he lived at the Khobar Towers in June 1996. All four of his roommates — Airman 1st Class Brent E. Marthaler, Technical Sgt. Patrick P. Fennig, Senior Airman Jeremy A. Taylor and Technical Sgt. Thanh V. Nguyen — were killed in the attack.
Mr. Ziegler, who has since retired, said he was appalled that the Iraqi prime minister would include Mr. al-Amiri in his delegation to Washington.
“To have someone like him here and then not be able to interrogate him is a slap in the face,” he said in a phone interview from Phoenix.
The attack took a heavy toll on Mr. Ziegler’s life. His marriage collapsed, and he drifted from one job to the next.
“It changed my life. I relive it every day, but I refuse to let the terrorists win,” he said.