No Proof Of Iranian Role In Bombing

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is surrounded by reporters during his visit to the 311 call center in New York, Wednesday June 20, 2007. After announcing the center's fifty millionth call at a press conference, Mayor Bloomberg deflected questions about a possible presidential bid and said he would not run. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews
Iran often endorses and directs acts of terrorism but there is no proof as yet that Iranian authorities sponsored the Khobar Towers attack in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 American servicemen, U.S. officials say.

Attorney General John Ashcroft came close to accusing Iran on Thursday of complicity in the incident as he announced a 46-count indictment against 13 Saudis and one Lebanese in the June 25, 1996, bombing.

Ashcroft said "elements of the Iranian government inspired, supported and supervised" members of Saudi Hezbollah, the group thought to be primarily responsible for the tragedy.

Yet not one Iranian official is named in the indictment, reports CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi denied Ashcroft's allegations on Friday.

"The U.S. judiciary has leveled charges against Iran which have no legal and judicial basis," Assefi said, quoted by the Islamic Republic News Agency.

Crime And Punishment, Saudi Style
Some of those charged in the Khobar Towers attack might be in Saudi Arabian jails, where rights activists worry they could be tortured or executed before their U.S. trials
Some of the 14 suspects are believed to be in custody in Saudi Arabia and others to be in different locations. Still others are at large. The United States does not have an extradition treaty with Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan criticized the indictments, accusing the United States of meddling in his country's internal affairs.

"This issue concerns Saudi Arabia alone," Sultan said during a visit to Yemen. "The American side should send all the documents, complete proof and a list of the names of the accused to us, because Saudi authorities alone are concerned with this case."

The indictment, coming just days before the statute of limitations on some of the charges was to expire, accuses the suspects of murder, attempted murder and conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction. About 40 of the charges are punishable by death.

President Bush promised to continue searching for those responsible for the bombing of the high-rise dormitory. He said more people might be charged.

In a statement to victims' families and survivors, Mr. Bush said, "Your government will not forget your loss, and will continue working, based on the evidenc, to make sure that justice is done."

Even though Thursday's indictments didn't name Iranians, U.S. officials said there was no reason to absolve the government in Tehran, citing the findings of the latest State Department report on international terrorism, released in April.

It said Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security "continued to be involved in the planning and execution of terrorist acts and continued to support a variety of groups that use terrorism to pursue their goals."

Complete Coverage
Click on these links for more on the bombing, the indictments, and the reaction:
  • Read the indictments handed down by a federal grand jury (.pdf format)
  • See the list of victims of the blast
  • Get President Bush's reaction to the charges
  • An indictment of Iranian officials would raise the possibility of demands for military action or some other form of retaliation against the Islamic-led government.

    "The administration is happy they don't have to go after the Iranian government," says Rachael Bronson, an Iran expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. The indictment means the administration can focus on the Saudi suspects, and not the Iranians, she said.

    Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said there may be links between Iran's Shiite-led Islamic government and its co-religionist allies in Sunni-led Saudi Arabia. But, he said, it may be harder to make the connection between Iran and the actual bombing.

    Cordesman said there are questions about the level of Iranian control of its Saudi allies.

    The Bush administration, he said, "has to be very careful about the chain of evidence and cause and effect."

    Cordesman also noted that relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia were poor in the mid-1990s. To the extent that Iran was supporting the Saudi Hezbollah at the time, its efforts may have been directed at the Saudi monarchy and not the United States.

    If there is evidence that Iranian agents were casing American installations in Saudi Arabia, that may merely have been a defensive measure, an attempt to keep tabs on the military activities of powerful and bitter enemy, he said.

    Cordesman aded that the experience in the aftermath of the Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 offers an additional reason for caution.

    "For the first year and a half, the government was virtually certain that it was sponsored by the Syrians," he said, noting that officials eventually decided that Libya was the culprit.

    Congressional sentiment against Iran is strong. A majority appears to support a five-year extension of a law designed to punish foreign companies that invest in Iran's energy sector, and Libya's as well.

    The law expires in August. The administration is backing a two-year extension.

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