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Rimkus v. Islamic Republic of Iran

August 26, 2008



This action arises from the June 25, 1996, bombing at the Khobar Towers, a residence on a United States military base in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The plaintiff in this action is Joseph J. Rimkus, the father of deceased Airman First Class Joseph E. Rimkus ("Airman Rimkus" or "Joseph"), a serviceman killed in the attack. Plaintiff alleges that the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security, and the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps 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. Plaintiff relies upon causes of action founded upon provisions of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act ("FSIA"), inter alia, 28 U.S.C. § 1605(a)(7).

This Court has already found these defendants liable for the death of Airman Rimkus. In Heiser v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 466 F. Supp. 2d 229 (D.D.C. 2006) (Lamberth, J.), this Court awarded damages to Airman Rimkus' surviving mother, Bridget Brooks, under the Florida Wrongful Death Act,*fn1 and to his two surviving siblings, James Rimkus and Anne Rimkus, on theories of intentional infliction of emotional distress. As plaintiff's claims were not addressed in Heiser, he has separately filed the instant action.


In his Complaint, filed June 19, 2006, plaintiff named as defendants (1) the Islamic Republic of Iran ("Iran"); (2) the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security ("MOIS"); and (3) the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps ("IRGC"). Plaintiff sought damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count I, against all defendants); solatium (Count II, against all defendants); and punitive damages (Count III, against defendants MOIS and IRGC).

On July 30, 2007, the defendants were served with the Complaint and all other required documents pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1608(a)(4). This is reflected in a September 28, 2007, letter from the United States Department of State to the Clerk of this Court. (See Docket Entry # 13.) Plaintiff thereafter sought entry of default on October 5, 2007, based upon defendants' failure to respond or enter an appearance. Default was entered by the Clerk of this Court against all three defendants on December 4, 2007.

This Court held an evidentiary hearing in this matter on January 4, 2008. At the outset of that hearing, plaintiff indicated that he was proceeding solely on the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim (Count I) against all three defendants, jointly and severally, with respect to compensatory damages. With respect to punitive damages (Count III), plaintiff indicated that he was proceeding solely against the IRGC. (See Hr'g Tr. 3--4, Jan. 4, 2008.)

At the hearing, this Court granted plaintiff's oral motion for the Court to take judicial notice of the related records and proceedings from other cases before this Court, including: Heiser and Blais v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 459 F. Supp. 2d 40 (D.D.C. 2006).*fn2 In those cases, this Court recognized defendants' liability for the Khobar Towers bombing. (See Hr'g Tr. 6.)

Based on all of the evidence presented at the evidentiary hearing, 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.


I. Generally

1. In June 1996, Airman First Class Joseph Edward Rimkus was twenty-two years old, having been born on April 13, 1974. (See Exs. 4 and 32.) He was a citizen of the United States and was a member of the United States Air Force. Although regularly stationed at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, in June 1996, Joseph was on assignment in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and resided in the Khobar Towers. Joseph was part of the 58th Fighter Squadron and had been trained as a weapons technician. (See Ex. 32; Hr'g Tr. 45.)

2. The Khobar Towers was a residential complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, which housed the coalition forces 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. Heiser, 466 F. Supp. 2d at 252, ¶ 7 (citation omitted); Blais, 459 F. Supp. 2d at 47, ¶ 4 (citations omitted).

3. The deployment of U.S. troops to the region was considered a peacetime deployment within a friendly host country. Heiser, 466 F. Supp. 2d at 251, ¶ 3 (citation omitted); Blais, 459 F. Supp. 2d at 47, ¶ 5 (citation omitted).

4. Airman Rimkus, along with the other persons killed in the bombing, was engaged in routine peace time operations while stationed in Saudi Arabia, and was charged with enforcing the "no fly zone" in southern Iraq. Heiser, 466 F. Supp. 2d at 251, ¶ 4.

5. Defendant 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 in part from its confiscation of the assets of the former Shah of Iran in 1979, when the Shah was deposed. Heiser, 466 F. Supp. 2d at 251--52, ¶ 6; Blais, 459 F. Supp. 2d at 47, ¶ 11.

6. 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, 9, ¶ 19 (D.D.C. 1998) (Lamberth, J.).

II. The Attack on Khobar Towers

7. At approximately 10 minutes before 10:00 p.m. 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. Heiser, 466 F. Supp. 2d at 252, ¶ 8; Blais, 459 F. Supp. 2d at 47, ¶ 13.

8. 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. Heiser, 466 F. Supp. 2d at 252, ¶ 9; Blais, 459 F. Supp. 2d at 47--48, ¶ 14.

9. The explosion sheared off the face of Building 131, where Airman Rimkus and his crewmates were housed, and reduced most of it to rubble. Nineteen United States Air Force personnel, including Airman Rimkus, were killed in the explosion, and hundreds of others were injured. Heiser, 466 F. Supp. 2d at 252, ¶ 10; Blais, 459 F. Supp. 2d at 48, ¶ 15; see Exs. 32 and 60.

III. Iranian Support and Sponsorship of the Attack

10. The Khobar Towers 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. Heiser, 466 F. Supp. 2d at 252, ¶ 11; Blais, 459 F. Supp. 2d at 48, ¶ 16.

11. The truck bomb was assembled at a terrorist base in the Bekaa Valley that was jointly operated by the IRGC and by the terrorist organization known as Hezbollah. 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. Heiser, 466 F. Supp. 2d at 252, ¶ 12; Blais, 459 F. Supp. 2d at 48, ¶ 17.

12. The terrorist attack on the Khobar Towers was approved by Ayatollah Khameini, the Supreme leader of Iran at the time. It was also approved and supported by the Iranian Minister of Intelligence and Security at the time, Ali Fallahian, who was involved in providing intelligence security support for the operation. Fallahian's representative in Damascus, a man named Nurani, also provided support for the operation. Heiser, 466 F. Supp. 2d at 252, ¶ 13; Blais, 459 F. Supp. 2d at 48, ¶ 18.

13. Under Louis Freeh, the FBI conducted a massive and thorough investigation of the attack, using over 250 agents. Heiser, 466 F. Supp. 2d at 252, ¶ 14; Blais, 459 F. Supp. 2d at 48, ¶ 19.

14. 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 Hezbollah organization. The indictment's description of the plot to bomb the Khobar Towers complex frequently refers to direction and assistance from Iranian government officials. Heiser, 466 F. Supp. 2d at 252, ¶ 15; Blais, 459 F. Supp. 2d at 48, ¶ 20.

15. In addition, as a result of this investigation, the FBI also obtained a great deal of information linking the defendants to the bombing from interviews with six admitted members of the Saudi Hezbollah organization, who were arrested by the Saudis shortly after the bombing. These six individuals admitted to the FBI their complicity in the attack on the Khobar Towers, and admitted that senior officials in the Iranian government provided them with funding, planning, training, sponsorship, and travel necessary to carry out the attack on the Khobar Towers. The six individuals also indicated that the selection of the target and the authorization to proceed was done collectively by Iran, MOIS, and the IRGC, though the actual preparation and carrying out of the attack was done by the IRGC. Heiser, 466 F. Supp. 2d at 252--53, ¶ 16.

16. According to Director Freeh, the FBI obtained specific information from the six about how each was recruited and trained by the Iranian government in Iran and Lebanon, and how weapons were smuggled into Saudi Arabia from Iran through Syria and Jordan. One individual described in detail a meeting about the attack at which senior Iranian officials, including members of MOIS and the IRGC, were present. Several stated that the IRGC directed, assisted, and oversaw the surveillance of the Khobar Towers site, and that these surveillance reports were sent to IRGC officials for their review. Another told the FBI that the IRGC gave the six individuals a large amount of money for the specific purpose of planning and executing the Khobar Towers bombing. Id. at 253, ¶ 17.

17. Louis Freeh has publicly and unequivocally stated his firm conclusion, based on evidence gathered by the FBI during its five-year investigation, that Iran was responsible for planning and supporting the Khobar Towers attack. Id. at 253, ¶ 18; Blais, 459 F. Supp. 2d at 48, ¶ 21.

18. 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." Heiser, 466 F. Supp. 2d at 253, ¶ 19; Blais, 459 F. Supp. 2d at 48, ¶ 22.

19. Dr. Patrick Clawson testified at the Heiser trial as an expert in three areas: (1) the government of Iran; (2) Iran's sponsorship of terrorism; and (3) the Iranian economy. Dr. Clawson's expert opinion regarding the perpetrators of the Khobar Towers bombing is based on his involvement on a commission investigating the bombing, his top-secret security clearance, his discussions with Saudi officials, as well as his academic research on the subject. Heiser, 466 F. Supp. 2d at 253, ¶ 20.

20. Dr. Clawson testified that the government of Iran formed the Saudi Hezbollah organization. He testified that the IRGC was responsible for providing military training to Hezbollah terrorists as to how to carry out a terrorist attack. He also testified as to the state-sponsorship of terrorism, noting that at the time of the Khobar Towers bombing, Iran spent an estimated amount of between $50 million and $150 million on terrorist activities. Id. at 253, ¶ 21.

21. In light of all these facts, Dr. Clawson stated conclusively his opinion that the government of Iran, MOIS, and the IRGC were responsible for the Khobar Towers bombing, and that Saudi Hezbollah carried out the attack under their direction. Id. at 253, ¶ 22.

22. Dr. Clawson's expert opinions are supported by Dr. Bruce Tefft, whose expert opinion this Court adopted in Heiser and Blais. Heiser, 466 F. Supp. 2d at 253--54, ¶ 23; see Blais, 459 F. Supp. 2d at 48, ¶ 23. Dr. Tefft was one of the founding members of the CIA's counterterrorism bureau in 1985. 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. He retains a top-secret security clearance in connection with his work. He has been qualified as an expert witness in numerous other cases involving Iranian sponsorship of terrorism. Id.; Blais, 459 F. Supp. 2d at 48--49, ¶ 23.

23. Dr. Tefft expressed the opinion that defendants Iran and the IRGC 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." Heiser, 466 F. Supp. 2d at 254, ¶ 24; Blais, 459 F. Supp. 2d at 49, ¶ 24. 24. 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. Heiser, 466 F. Supp. 2d at 254, ¶ 25; Blais, 459 F. Supp. 2d at 49, ¶ 25.

IV. Plaintiff's Relationship With Decedent Joseph E. Rimkus

25. Plaintiff Joseph J. Rimkus, Airman Rimkus' father, was seventeen years old when Joseph was born. (Ex. 4.)

26. At the time of Joseph's death on June 25, 1996, plaintiff was thirty-eight years old.

27. Plaintiff served twenty years in the United States Air Force, and currently works as a satellite communications technician in support of special operations worldwide for the United States military. (See Hr'g Tr. 32.)

28. Plaintiff married Joseph's mother, Bridget Brooks, in October 1973, and they divorced in April 1991. (Id. at 33.) Plaintiff married his current ...

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