REG 200711 Khobar bombing 1-1594456013081
This file, June 25, 1996 image shows US and Saudi military personnel surveying the damage to Khobar Towers caused by the explosion of a fuel truck outside the northern fence of the facility on King Abdul Aziz Air Base near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia

Abu Dhabi: A United States federal court has held Iran responsible for the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, where US forces were housed, and ordered it to pay $879 million (Dh3.23 billion) to survivors.

The Khobar Towers was a housing complex in the eastern city of Al Khobar, near the Abdulaziz Air Base and Saudi Aramco’s headquarters in Dhahran, that housed American servicemen working on Operation Southern Watch.

A truck bomb was detonated on June 25, 1996, near an eight-storey building of the housing complex. It killed 19 US Air Force personnel and a Saudi citizen, wounding 498 others.

The court ruled that the Iranian government had directed and provided logistical support to Hezbollah members, who detonated the 5,000-pound truck bomb, a Chicago law firm press release said. The attackers reportedly smuggled the explosives used in the attack from Lebanon.

Imposing fines ‘insufficient’

A Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar said that imposing monetary fines was insufficient.

“One can understand monetary fines in the case of their ‘accidental’ shooting down of a civilian aircraft recently, but in these terrorist bombings, there should be a military response,” Dr Hamdan Al Shehri said. “A response that should be a deterrent. A response that should stop Iran from committing such acts of terror. Iran should not be allowed to get away by merely paying a couple of million dollars.”

He said that this attack was not the only one that had been carried out by Iran and its militias. “They have been responsible for many such bombings and assassinations. We know how they assassinated former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. They are yet to be punished for that heinous crime.”

He said there was no doubt about the direct involvement of Iran in that bombing. “It is good to know that the US court has confirmed what we knew all along and it is good that Iran has been finally held accountable.”

‘Exporting extremist ideals’

Harvard scholar and Iranian affairs expert Majid Rafizadeh said: “This is further evidence that Iran is a major state sponsor of terrorism, a destabilising force, and is engaged in financial, political and military support for militias and designated terrorist groups across the Middle East and in the West, with the aim of exporting its extremist ideals through terror, expanding its influence and achieving its hegemonic ambitions.”

The lawsuit was brought under the terrorism exception provision of the US Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act by the 14 injured US airmen and 21 of their immediate family members.

The defendants in the case were listed as the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security.

“We will continue to seek to hold the Government of Iran accountable for this terrorist attack as long as is necessary,” said Adora Sauer, the lead attorney of MM LAW LLC.

Compensatory damage

US District Judge Beryl A. Howell found the defendants liable and awarded the plaintiffs $132 million for pain and suffering, as well as prejudgement interest, for a total compensatory damage award of $747 million and $132 million for punitive damages.

The court also said the plaintiffs were eligible for partial payments from the US Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund, which compensates American victims of acts of international terrorism with funds obtained from fines and forfeitures levied against companies caught illegally laundering money for sanctioned countries and persons.

The attorneys also intend to pursue enforcement of the judgements through litigation intended to seize Iranian assets.

‘The evil that Iran did’

“The physical and psychological toll on our families has been extremely high, but this judgement is welcome news,” said Glenn Christie, a retired Air Force staff sergeant crew chief who was severely injured in the bombing. “More than 20 years on, we want the world to remember the evil that Iran did at the Khobar Towers. Through the work of our attorneys, we intend to do just that.”

According to John Urquhart of the Urquhart Law Firm, which also represents the bombing victims, the explosion had taken “so much from their minds and bodies” on the day of the attack and every day and night since then. “They can now live with that balance justice provides,” he said.