In a little noticed ruling on Monday, November 28, a Washington, D.C. district court found that both Iran and Sudan were culpable for al Qaeda’s 1998 embassy bombings. As is typical in state sponsorship of terrorism cases, neither Iran nor Sudan answered the plaintiffs’ accusations. But in a 45-page decision, Judge John D. Bates issued a default judgment. The court found that the “government of the Islamic Republic of Iran…has a long history of providing material aid and support to terrorist organizations including al Qaeda,” which “claimed responsibility for the August 7, 1998 embassy bombings.”
Judge Bates continued (citations omitted, emphasis added):
Iran had been the preeminent state sponsor of terrorism against United States interests for decades. Throughout the 1990s – at least – Iran regarded al Qaeda as a useful tool to destabilize U.S. interests. As discussed in detail below, the government of Iran aided, abetted and conspired with Hezbollah, Osama bin Laden, and al Qaeda to launch large-scale bombing attacks against the United States by utilizing the sophisticated delivery mechanism of powerful suicide truck bombs. Hezbollah, a terrorist organization based principally in Lebanon, had utilized this type of bomb in the devastating 1983 attacks on the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. Prior to their meetings with Iranian officials and agents, Bin Laden and al Qaeda did not possess the technical expertise required to carry out the embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. The Iranian defendants, through Hezbollah, provided explosives training to Bin Laden and al Qaeda and rendered direct assistance to al Qaeda operatives. Hence, for the reasons discussed below the Iranian defendants provided material aid and support to al Qaeda for the 1998 embassy bombings and are liable for damages suffered by the plaintiffs.
The court further explained (citations omitted, emphasis added):
Following the meetings that took place between representatives of Hezbollah and al Qaeda in Sudan in the early to mid-1990s, Hezbollah and Iran agreed to provide advanced training to a number of al Qaeda members, including shura council members, at Hezbollah training camps in South Lebanon. Saif al-Adel, the head of al Qaeda security, trained in Hezbollah camps. During this time period, several other senior al Qaeda operatives trained in Iran and in Hezbollah training camps in Lebanon. After one of the training sessions at a Lebanese Hezbollah camp, al Qaeda operatives connected to the Nairobi bombing, including a financier and a bomb-maker, returned to Sudan with videotapes and manuals “specifically about how to blow up large buildings.”
None of this should come as a surprise. In Iran’s Proxy War Against America (PDF), I summarized the evidence demonstrating Iran’s and Hezbollah’s complicity in the 1998 embassy bombings.
Federal prosecutors in the Clinton administration found Iran’s hand in the embassy bombings as they prepared to try some of the terrorists responsible. They even included the relationship with Iran and Hezbollah in their original indictments of al Qaeda.
In his plea hearing before a New York court in 2000, Ali Mohamed – the al Qaeda operative who was responsible for performing surveillance used for the bombings – testified that he set up the security for a meeting between bin Laden and Hezbollah’s terror master, Imad Mugniyah. “I arranged security for a meeting in the Sudan between Mugniyah, Hezbollah’s chief, and bin Laden,” Mohamed told the court. (My profile of Mugniyah and his ties to al Qaeda, published after his death in 2008, can be read here.)
Mohamed also confirmed that Hezbollah and Iran provided explosives training to al Qaeda. “Hezbollah provided explosives training for al Qaeda and [Egyptian Islamic] Jihad,” Mohamed explained. “Iran supplied Egyptian Jihad with weapons.”
Mohamed was forthcoming about al Qaeda’s rationale for seeking Iran’s and Hezbollah’s assistance:
And the objective of all this, just to attack any Western target in the Middle East, to force the government of the Western countries just to pull out from the Middle East. . . .Based on the Marine explosion in Beirut in 1984 [sic: 1983] and the American pull-out from Beirut, they will be the same method, to force the United States to pull out from Saudi Arabia.
Jamal al Fadl, an al Qaeda operative who was privy to some of al Qaeda’s most sensitive secrets, conversed with his fellow al Qaeda members about Iran’s and Hezbollah’s explosives training, which included take-home videotapes so that al Qaeda’s operatives would not forget what they learned. Al Fadl told federal prosecutors, “I saw one of the tapes, and he [another al Qaeda operative] tell me they train about how to explosives big buildings.”
When the 9/11 Commission investigated the embassy bombings years later, it also found Iran’s and Hezbollah’s hands in the attack. See, in particular, pages 61 and 68 of the commission’s final report.
To recap: A D.C. district court, Clinton-era prosecutors, and the 9/11 Commission have all found that al Qaeda received assistance from Iran and Hezbollah in executing the 1998 embassy bombings. The bombings were al Qaeda’s most successful attack prior to September 11, 2001.
And yet, many in the foreign policy establishment pretend that Iran and al Qaeda are either incapable of collusion or opposed to one another in some meaningful sense. The truth is that they have long cooperated against America.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.