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Sunday, November 26, 2023

US court orders Iran to pay damages over 1996 Saudi attack

A US court has ordered Iran to pay damages worth nearly $880 million for its involvement in an attack on US nationals in Saudi Arabia. This is being hailed by the US State Department as a further vindication of its stance on Iran's support of terror groups. It seems that Iran's relations with Saudi Arabia will also be further strained. All in all, the turbulence in the Middle East does not seem like it will stop anytime soon.

A US court has ordered Iran to pay another $879.1 million over a 1996 bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 US airmen, ruling again that Tehran bore responsibility.


President Donald Trump’s administration hailed the judgment, the latest over the attack against Iran, which denies involvement and refuses to pay.

US court orders Iran to pay $879 million for aiding attack

Saudi Hezbollah, a militant group from the conservative Sunni kingdom’s Shiite minority, allegedly carried out the attack by driving an explosives-laden truck into the eight-story Khobar Towers complex where Western and Saudi forces were staying.

Beryl Howell, the chief judge of the US federal district court in Washington, cited previous evidence as she wrote that Iran “aided Hezbollah in carrying out a horrific, violent attack that killed 19 people and injured hundreds more.”

In a July 2 ruling that was made public this week, she ordered the damages for 14 US service members who were injured in the attack as well as 21 family members.

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Explaining why the amount includes punitive damages, she said that the plaintiffs “suffered physical injuries and psychological trauma” and that “there is a need to deter future terrorist attacks.”

Glenn Tyler Christie, who led the suit, was cleaning a nearby kitchen at the time of the blast and still suffers both physical and psychological problems including chronic headaches and depression, the ruling said.

US court orders Iran to pay damages: US State Department elated

State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus hailed the decision, writing on Twitter: “Justice is overdue for the many victims of Iranian-supported terror.”

Howell in 2018 had ordered Iran to pay $104.7 million in a similar case over the Khobar Towers bombing.

At that time, she had rejected the punitive part of the damages, saying that changes in US law precluded such penalties for incidents before 2008.

But in May, the US Supreme Court allowed for punitive damages for pre-2008 attacks in a unanimous decision involving Sudan.

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A separate court decision in 2013 ordered Iran to pay $591 million to the family of one of the US airmen who died.

Iran, which has no diplomatic relations with the United States, has hit back that Washington should pay for past wrongdoing including support for Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war.

The International Court of Justice last year let Iran continue with legal action seeking to unblock Iranian assets frozen by the United States, which says the money should go to pay victims under court judgments.

Saudi Arabia maintains that a fine is not sufficient

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.”

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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.”

What was the 1996 Khobar Towers attack?

The Khobar Towers bombing was a terrorist attack on part of a housing complex in the city of Khobar, Saudi Arabia, near the national oil company (Saudi Aramco) headquarters of Dhahran and nearby King Abdulaziz Air Base on June 25, 1996. At that time, Khobar Towers was being used as living quarters for coalition forces who were assigned to Operation Southern Watch, a no-fly zone operation in southern Iraq, as part of the Iraqi no-fly zones.

Read more: Attack on Saudi Arabia: UN says arms were of Iranian origin

A truck bomb was detonated adjacent to Building #131, an eight-story structure housing members of the United States Air Force’s 4404th Wing (Provisional), primarily from a deployed rescue squadron and deployed fighter squadron. In all, 19 U.S. Air Force personnel and a Saudi local were killed and 498 of many nationalities were wounded. The official June 25, 1996, statement by the United States named members of Hezbollah Al-Hejaz as responsible. In 2006, a U.S. court found Iran and Hezbollah guilty of orchestrating the attack. In July of 2020, a US court ordered Iran to pay $879m to the Khobar bombing survivors.

GVS News Desk with additional input by other sources