Nearly five years after a powerful
truck bomb ripped through a U.S. military housing complex in
Saudi Arabia killing 19 Americans and wounding 372
terrorism charges have been brought against 13 members of the
pro-Iran Saudi Hizballah, or "Party of God." Another,
as yet unidentified, person who is linked to the Lebanese Hizballah
has also been charged in the attack.
According to the indictment returned
today by a Federal Grand Jury in Alexandria, Virginia, nine of
the fourteen are charged with 46 separate criminal counts including:
conspiracy to kill Americans and employees of the United States,
to use weapons of mass destruction, and to destroy U.S. property;
bombing; and murder. The five others are each charged with five
conspiracy counts. The indictment alleges that the conspiracy
was driven by the motive to expel Americans from the Kingdom
of Saudi Arabia.
Charged with all counts are:
Ahmed Al-Mughassil, also known as Abu Omran; Ali Al-Houri; Hani
Al-Sayegh; Ibrahim Al-Yacoub; Abdel Karim Al-Nasser; Mustafa
Al-Qassab; Abdallah Al-Jarash; Hussein Al-Mughis; and the unidentified
Lebanese, listed as "John Doe." The remaining five
-- Sa'ed Al-Bahar, Saleh Ramadan, Ali Al-Marhoun, Mustafa Al-Mu'alem
and Fadel Al-Alawe -- are named in the five conspriracy counts.
Attorney General John Ashcroft
said: "For five years, the Department of Justice and the
FBI have worked to develop the evidence necessary to bring charges
in this country against those responsible for this terrible crime.
Today, with the return of this indictment, we have reached an
important milestone in that ongoing investigation."
FBI Director Louis J. Freeh said
the indictment represents "a major step toward making sure
that those responsible are brought to justice, as well as a testament
to the value and necessity of international law enforcement cooperation
to counter the dangers in today's world." Freeh expressed
his appreciation to the government of Saudi Arabia for "invaluable
assistance and a genuine commitment to solving the case, despite
the inevitable challenges, sensitivities, and occasional setbacks
that are inherent in complex international investigations."
Freeh, who has met with and briefed victim family members and
survivors since the attack, complimented them for their patience
and perseverance. "These five years have been particularly
trying for the survivors and for the families. I hope that this
development, and our commitment to continue pursuing this investigation,
strengthens their confidence in the criminal justice system and
aids in the healing process," Freeh said.
At about 10:00 p.m. on June 25,
1996, a tanker truck loaded with at least 5,000 pounds of plastic
explosives was driven into the parking lot in front of the Khobar
Towers residential complex in Dhahran. Moments later a massive
explosion sheared the face off of Building 131, an eight-story
structure which housed about 100 U.S. Air Force personnel. Although
rooftop sentries were immediately suspicious of the truck --
parked some 80 feet from the building -- and attempted an evacuation,
few escaped. Comparable to 20,000 pounds of TNT, the bomb was
estimated to be larger than the one that destroyed the federal
building in Oklahoma City a year before, and more than twice
as powerful as the 1983 bomb used at the Marine barracks in Beirut.
The indictment handed down by
the grand jury gives a detailed chronology of events leading
up to the deadly attack and provides a snapshot of the Saudi
Hizballah and its relationship with then-members of the Iranian
government. No Iranian is named or charged in the indictment.
According to the indictment,
the Saudi Hizballah, or Hizballah Al-Hijaz, was one of a number
of related Hizballah terrorist organizations operating in Saudi
Arabia, Lebanon, Kuwait and Bahrain, among other places. The
Saudi Hizballah was a terrorist organization which promoted violence
against Americans and U.S. property in Saudi Arabia. Since the
group was outlawed in Saudi Arabia, its members frequently met
in neighboring countries such as Lebanon, Syria or Iran.
The indictment traces the carefully
organized bomb plot back to on or about 1993 when Al-Mughassil,
under Saudi Hizballah leader Al-Nasser, was head of the "military
wing" of the Saudi Hizballah. It is alleged that, at that
time, Al-Mughassil was in charge of directing terrorist attacks
against Americans and American interests in Saudi Arabia. Al-Mughassil
instructed defendants Al-Qassab, Al-Yacoub and Al-Houri, later
joined by Al-Sayegh, to begin surveillance of Americans in Saudi
Arabia. This operation produced reports that were provided to
Al-Mughassil, Al-Nasser and officials in Iran. Al-Mughassil carefully
reviewed the surveillance reports, according to the indictment.
During the same time, Al-Jarash
and Al-Marhoun conducted surveillance of other sites where Americans
lived, worked or frequented, including the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh
and a fish market nearby, according to the charges. Later, in
early 1994, Al-Qassab began surveillance of locations in the
Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, an area which includes Khobar.
Reports of this operation were provided to Al-Nasser and to Iranian
officials, the indictment alleges.
In the Fall of 1994, defendants
Al-Marhoun, Ramadan and Al-Mu'alem began watching American sites
in Eastern Saudi Arabia at Al-Mughassil's direction, and Al-Bahar
looked at other sites at the direction of an Iranian military
officer, according to the indictment. It was during this time
that Al-Marhoun, Ramadan and Al-Mu'alem determined Khobar Towers
to be an important American military location and began an effort
in the region to locate a storage site for explosives.
In 1995, an Iranian military
officer directed Al-Bahar and Al-Sayegh to conduct surveillance
on the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia for sites of possible future
attacks against Americans. During this time, Al-Mughassil told
Al-Marhoun during a live-fire practice drill in Lebanon that
he enjoyed close ties to Iranian officials who were providing
financial support to the party, according to the indictment.
Al-Mughassil then gave Al-Marhoun $2,000 in U.S. currency to
support continued efforts to identify American sites.
The indictment alleges that it
was in or about June 1995 that Al-Marhoun, Al-Ramadan and Al-Mu'alem
began regular surveillance of Khobar Towers, at the direction
of Al-Mughassil. By late Fall 1995, the three learned that Al-Mughassil
had decided that Hizballah would attack Khobar Towers with a
tanker truck loaded with explosives. According to the indictment,
the attack would serve Iran by driving the Americans from the
In early 1996, Al-Mughassil instructed
Al-Marhoun to find places to hide explosives, and in February
Ramadan drove a car loaded with explosives from Beirut, Lebanon,
to the city of Qatif in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia,
the indictment alleges. In March 1996, Al-Alawe attempted to
drive another explosives-filled car from Lebanon to Saudi Arabia,
but he was searched at the Saudi border and arrested. Follow-up
Saudi investigation led to the arrests of Al-Marhoun, Al-Mu'alem
and Ramadan in April 1996.
Meanwhile, according to the indictment,
Al-Mughassil continued planning for the Khobar attack and sought
replacements for those arrested. Joining Al-Mughis, Al-Mughassil
formed a team consisting of Al-Jarash, Al-Houri, Al-Sayegh and
a Lebanese Hizballah member. During this time in 1996, Al-Houri
and Al-Mughis began to hide explosives around the Khobar area.
In early June 1996, according
to the indictment, a tanker truck was purchased by the conspirators,
who then spent two weeks converting the truck into a truck bomb.
The group consisted of Al-Mughassil, Al-Houri, Al-Sayegh, Al-Qassab
and John Doe, assisted by Al-Mughis and Al-Jarash. The indictment
alleges that Al-Mughassil discussed a plan at this time to bomb
the U.S. consulate at nearby Dhahran.
During the first half of June 1996, Al-Mughassil, Al-Houri, Al-Yacoub,
Al-Sayegh, Al-Qassab and Saudi Hizballah leader Al-Nasser discussed
the planned bombing. Al-Nasser confirmed that Al-Mughassil was
in charge of the Khobar attack, according to the indictment.
The indictment details the attack
as follows: On the evening of June 25, 1996, Al-Mughassil, Al-Houri,
Al-Sayegh, al-Qassab, Al-Jarash and al-Mughis finalized plans
for the attack that night. Shortly before 10 p.m, Al-Sayegh drove
a Datsun, with Al-Jarash as his passenger, as a scout vehicle
into the public parking lot in the front of Khobar Towers building
# 131. Behind them was the getaway car, a white Chevrolet Caprice
that Al-Mughis had borrowed. When the Datsun signaled that all
was clear by blinking its lights, the bomb truck, driven by Al-Mughassil
and with Al-Houri as a passenger, entered the lot and backed
up against a fence in front of building # 131. Al-Mughassil and
Al-Houri then exited the truck and entered the back seat of the
Caprice for the getaway, driving away followed by the Datsun.
In minutes the blast devastated the north side of the building.
Immediately following the terrorist
attack, the leaders fled the Khobar area and Saudi Arabia using
fake passports. Only Al-Jarash and Al-Mughis remained behind.
Al-Sayegh reached Canada in August 1996 where he was arrested
by Canadian authorities seven months later. In May 1997, Al-Sayegh
requested to meet with American investigators and denied knowledge
of the Khobar attack. He also falsely described an estrangement
between the Saudi Hizballah and elements of the Iranian government.
He was later removed to the United States based on a promise
to cooperate. Instead, he reneged on the promise and unsuccessfully
sought political asylum in the U.S. The indictment charges that
the defendants first conspired to kill Americans since at least
1988, when several of the group joined the Saudi Hizballah, and
later, in the Khobar attack, carried out the murders of American
military personnel who were serving in their official capacity
in Saudi Arabia.
Following the deadly attack,
FBI Director Freeh pledged the full support of the FBI to work
closely with Saudi authorities in the investigation. FBI investigators
and forensic experts were on the scene in the immediate aftermath
of the bombing. Freeh first traveled to Dhahran on July 2, 1996,
to meet with senior Saudi officials, visit the crime scene and
be briefed by Saudi and American investigators. That trip was
followed by several others over the next four years, at key junctures
in the case and as events dictated.
From the investigation came the
establishment of a permanent FBI liaison office in Riyadh, at
the invitation of the Saudi government and with the full support
of then-Ambassador Wyche Fowler and the State Department. The
office is the first in the Gulf region, and today serves as a
critically important law enforcement and counterterrorism partner
to Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states.
In addition to the Saudis, Freeh
also thanked the following: Canadian authorities for their "valuable
assistance at key points in the investigation"; The Department
of Defense, the Joint Chiefs and the U.S. Air Force for "support
at every step of the way"; Former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi
Arabia Fowler, whose "unswerving commitment to seeing progress
made played a critical role in today's development"; and
the Department of State, whose support is "essential to
achieving international investigative successes like this case,
the bombings of the embassies in East Africa and many others."
Freeh noted the efforts of prosecutors
in the Eastern District of Virginia: "Acting United States
Attorney Kenneth Melson and Assistant U.S. Attorneys James Comey
and John Davis made a tremendous contribution with their hard
work and dedicated efforts in organizing this complex case. They
represent the highest ideals of public service."
Melson said: "The indictment
should underscore the commitment of my office and the FBI to
pursuing the case until all guilty parties are punished for the
horrific attack on our servicemen at Khobar Towers. We look forward
to working with our Saudi partners and law enforcement around
the world to apprehend the fugitives and to bring all these defendants
Finally, Freeh thanked the "dedicated
men and women of the FBI who have been working on the case --
in Saudi Arabia, Washington, D.C. and elsewhere -- with dedication
and a single purpose of seeing justice served."