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Blais v. Islamic Republic of Iran

September 29, 2006

PAUL ALEXANDER BLAIS, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Royce C. Lamberth, United States District Judge,

MEMORANDUM OPINION

BACKGROUND

These actions arise from the June 25, 1996 bombing at Khobar Towers, a residence on a United States military base in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The plaintiffs in this action are the family members and estates of 17 of the 19 servicemen killed in the attack. Plaintiffs allege that the Islamic Republic of Iran ("Iran"), the Iranian Minister of Intelligence and Security ("MOIS"), and the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp ("IRGC" or "the Pasdaran") are liable for damages from the attack because they provided material support and assistance to Hezbollah, the terrorist organization that orchestrated and carried out the bombing.*fn1 Plaintiffs have relied upon causes of action founded upon provisions of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act ("FSIA"), inter alia, 28 U.S.C. § 1605(a)(7).

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On February 13, 2002, plaintiffs filed their original complaint seeking redress for their losses under FSIA. On October 1, 2002, Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint adding plaintiffs Curtis A. Taylor and Maria Taylor, and Thaddeus Fenning.*fn2 On January 29, 2003, return of service of summons and complaint on defendants Iran, MOIS and the IRGC was executed on January 13, 2003. Later in the year, on July 22, 2003, plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint, which was served on defendants via diplomatic channels on February 2, 2004, with an Answer due February 23, 2004. After defendants failed to respond, default was entered against them on July 29, 2004.

On January 12, 2005, in light of recent decisions by the Court of Appeals for this Circuit, this Court subsequently denied Entry of Default against defendants. After an Order of this Court directing plaintiffs to show cause why the complaint should not be dismissed as to those named defendants who had not yet been served at that time, this Court entered an Order dismissing the complaint without prejudice as to defendants Hizballah, Ayatollah Ali Hoseini Khamenei, Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, Osama Bin Laden, and Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani.

Plaintiffs subsequently filed their third amended complaint against the remaining three defendants: Iran, MOIS, and the IRGC.*fn3 As compared to the initial complaint, the third amended complaint served to put the remaining defendants on notice that the claims sought by plaintiffs were grounded in state substantive law as well as in the federal statutory scheme. It also sought redress from only those three defendants who had been served. Even were these changes characterized as substantive Iran, the MOIS and the IRGC had fair notice of the allegations and relief sought, because the changes to the third amended complaint were not substantial. See Dammarell v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 370 F. Supp. 2d 218, 225 (D.D.C. 2005) (Bates, J.) (noting that only "additions to a complaint [which are] substantial" might warrant the service of an amended complaint). Accordingly, this Court will not require plaintiff to serve the amended complaint. Based on all of the evidence presented, the Court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law and will, consistent with them, enter default judgment in favor of plaintiff and against defendants Iran, MOIS, and the IRGC.

FINDINGS OF FACT

1. Plaintiff Paul Blais was born on June 24, 1970, and had just celebrated his 26th birthday the day before the attack on the Khobar Towers. He was and is a United States citizen, and resides today in Hampton, Virginia, in the same house as his parents, Curtis and Maria Taylor. Tr. 101-02; 110.*fn4

2. Mr. Blais had served about four and a half years in the United States Air Force after enlisting in October 1991. Tr. 104. He was stationed at Patrick Air Force Base in Cocoa Beach Florida when he was sent to perform a ninety day rotation of duty in Saudi Arabia. Tr. 107-08. He was trained and served as an airborne search and rescue coordinator who had the responsibility to coordinate and direct the recovery efforts for any downed air crew members. Tr. 106.

3. He was assigned as a permanent member of an aircrew that included four other airmen, all with specialized and well-defined duties. Tr. 108-09.

4. The United States military presence in Saudi Arabia was with the consent of that host country. Ex. 14 at 3. It was part of a coalition of forces, primarily from the United States, Great Britain, and France, that was charged with monitoring Iraq's compliance with United Nations Security Council resolutions enforcing the cease-fire that had brought an end to the 1991 "Desert Storm" ejection of Iraqi occupying forces from Kuwait. Id. at 3-4; Tr. at 40-41.

5. The deployment of U.S. troops to the region was considered a peacetime deployment within a friendly host country. Tr. at 42-43. Blais's unit engaged in routine peace time operations, such as practice runs and transfer of personnel. Tr. at 111.

6. Blais held a pilot's license and had amassed sufficient flying time to qualify for certification as a commercial pilot. Tr. 104, Ex. 20. He was ready to take the commercial flying certification examinations. Tr. 104, 99.

7. From his earliest days that he could remember, Blais had always wanted to be an airline pilot. Tr. 104; 98-99. He loved flying and joined the Air Force because of his love of flying. Tr. 104.

8. As a young man, he had been active, athletic, and popular, with many friends and an active social life. Tr. 139, 118. He was an accomplished skier and snowboarder, and enjoyed many other active and demanding sports as well. Tr. 103, 98.

9. He had worked as a radio announcer throughout his late teens and prior to enlisting with the Air Force. He had a "radio-quality" voice. Tr. 98.

10. Defendant Iran "is a foreign state and has been designated a state sponsor of terrorism pursuant to section 69(j) of the Export Administration Act of 1979 (50 U.S.C.A. § 2405(j)) continuously since January 19, 1984." Flatow v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 999 F. Supp.1, 11, (D.D.C. 1998) (Lamberth, J.).

11. Defendant the IRGC is a non-traditional instrumentality of Iran. It is the military arm of a kind of shadow government answering directly to the Ayatollah and the mullahs who hold power in Iran. It is similar to the Nazi party's SA organization prior to World War II. The IRGC actively supports terrorism as a means of protecting the Islamic revolution that brought the Ayatollah to power in Iran in 1979. It has its own separate funding sources, derived from confiscation of the assets of the former Shah of Iran in 1979, when the Shah was deposed. Tr. 15-17; Ex. 11.

12. The Khobar Towers was a residential complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, which housed the coalition forces charged with monitoring compliance with U.N. security council resolutions. Tr. 41.

The Attack on the Khobar Towers

13. At approximately 10 minutes before 10 pm on June 25, 1996, a large gasoline tanker truck pulled up alongside the perimeter wall of the Khobar Towers complex. The driver jumped out, ran into a waiting car that had pulled up near the truck, and sped off. Tr. 9-10.

14. Although security guards near the top of Building 131 started to give warnings about the unusual vehicle location, the truck exploded with great force within about 15 minutes. The investigation determined that the force of the explosion was the equivalent of 20,000 pounds of TNT. The Defense Department said that it was the largest non-nuclear explosion ever up to that time. Tr. 10.

15. The explosion sheared off the face of Building 131, where Paul Blais and his crewmates were housed, and reduced most of it to rubble. Nineteen United States Air Force personnel were killed in the explosion, and hundreds of others were injured. Tr. 11; Ex. 2.

Iranian Support and Sponsorship of the Attack

16. The attack was carried out by individuals recruited principally by a senior official of the IRGC, Brigadier General Ahmed Sharifi. Sharifi, who was the operational commander, planned the operation and recruited individuals for the operation at the Iranian embassy in Damascus, Syria. He provided the passports, the paperwork, and the funds for the individuals who carried out the attack. Tr. 12-13; Ex. 13.

17. The truck bomb was assembled at a terrorist base in the Bekaa Valley which was jointly operated by the IRGC and by the terrorist organization known as Hezbollah. Tr. 13. The individuals recruited to carry out the bombing referred to themselves as "Saudi Hezbollah," and they drove the truck bomb from its assembly point in the Bekaa Valley to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Id.

18. The terrorist attack on the Khobar Towers was approved by Ayatollah Khameini, the Supreme leader of Iran at the time. Tr. 13-14. It was also approved and supported by the Iranian Minister of Intelligence and Security ("MOIS") at the time, Ali Fallahian, who was involved in providing intelligence security support for the operation. Tr. 14. Fallahian's representative in Damascus, a man named Nurani, also provided support for the operation. Id.

19. Under Louis Freeh, the FBI conducted a massive and thorough investigation of the attack, using over 250 agents. Ex. 4 at 37.

20. Based on that investigation, an Alexandria, Virginia, grand jury returned an indictment on June 21, 2001, against 13 identified members of the pro-Iran Saudi Hezballah organization. The indictment's description of the plot to bomb the Khobar Towers complex frequently refers to direction and assistance from Iranian government officials. Tr. 25-26; Exs. 7, 7A.

21. Louis Freeh has publicly and unequivocally stated his firm conclusion, based on evidence gathered by the FBI during their five-year investigation, that Iran was responsible for planning and supporting the Khobar Towers attack. Ex. 3 at 16; Exs. 5,6; Tr. at 19-20, 23.

22. Dale Watson was formerly the deputy counterterrorism chief of the FBI in 1996, and subsequently became the section chief for all international terrorism in 1997. Mr. Watson was responsible for day to day oversight of the FBI investigation of the Khobar Towers attack. Mr. Watson has given sworn testimony that information uncovered in the investigation, "clearly pointed to the fact that there was Iran MOIS and IRGC involvement in the bombing." Ex. 4, at 42; see also id. at 48-49.

23. Dr. Bruce Tefft was one of the founding members of the CIA's counterterrorism bureau in 1985. Tr. 6. He served in the CIA until 1995, and has continued to work as a consultant on terrorism since that time, including work as an unofficial adviser to the New York Police Department's counterterrorism and intelligence divisions. Id. He retains a top-secret security clearance in connection with his work. Id. He has been qualified as an expert witness in numerous other cases involving Iranian sponsorship of terrorism. Ex. 1 at 3. He was qualified as an expert witness on terrorism in this case. Tr. 8.

24. Dr. Tefft expressed the opinion that defendants the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp were responsible for planning and supporting the attack on the Khobar Towers, including providing operational and financial support. He stated that there was "no question about it. It wouldn't have happened without Iranian support.." Tr. 43.

25. Dr. Tefft based his conclusion on publicly available sources that were not inconsistent with classified information known to him from his time at the CIA and from his security clearances since that time. He relied on the public sources described above, as well as several others, which he described as authoritative and reliable, including congressional testimony by Matthew Levitt, senior fellow and director of the Washington Institute's Terrorism Studies Program, and articles published by the Federation of American Scientists as well as the Free Muslims Coalition. Exs. 8, 11, 12; Tr. 28-29, 31-33. Injuries Sustained by Paul Blais

26. Blais had gone to bed early on the night of the attack because he had planned to get up at 4:00 am to get ready for an early morning flight mission. He woke just before 10:05 pm to use the bathroom, where he was when the explosion occurred. Tr. 112.

27. Blais' aircrew consisted of four other men: Pilot and Command Captain Chris Evans; Flight Engineer Kevin Johnson; Navigator Leland Hahn; Loadmaster Justin Wood; and Loadmaster Mike Heiser. All died as a result of injuries received in the explosion. Tr. 108-09.

28. The whole front of Blais' apartment building was shorn off. Ex. 2. After the explosion, rescue personnel found him in the ...


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