That was an act of war, much like the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack, and prompted the United States to go to war with the Taliban in Afghanistan after the Taliban refused to expel Al-Qaeda. But there has been no talk about going to war with Iran in the week since the court decision.
Judge George B. Daniels of the US District Court for Southern New York issued a 53-page ruling that concluded: “Iran provided material support and resources to Al-Qaeda for acts of terrorism, including the extrajudicial killing of the victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks.… Such material support or resources took the form of, inter alia, planning, funding, facilitation of the hijackers’ travel and training, and logistics, and included the provision of services, money, lodging, training, expert advice or assistance, safehouses, false documentation or identification, and/or transportation.”
The decision came just weeks after another federal judge in a different district court ruled that Iran had a major hand in the earlier bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Surprisingly, there has been almost no public reaction in the United States and no calls for military action against the Islamic Republic. None of the Republican presidential candidates, most of whom have been falling all over one another to appear tougher than the others in confronting Iran, have even mentioned either of these court decisions.
Both cases came to the courts as suits against the Islamic Republic seeking financial awards for what the plaintiffs asserted was Iran’s role in killing relatives of the plaintiffs. As is Iran’s practice in such “victims of terrorism” suits, the Tehran government never responded and made no effort to challenge the evidence against it.
The allegation of Iranian involvement in the 9/11 attacks is not new. But the court’s decision is the first official imprimatur given the allegation. Evidence of Iranian involvement surfaced just as the 9/11 Commission was finishing its work several years ago, so that commission did not accuse Iran of involvement.
Several people who worked for the commission were key witnesses in this month’s trial that resulted in Judge Daniels naming the Islamic Republic as providing key aid to Al-Qaeda for the attacks. Another key witness was Abolghasem Mesbahi, an Iranian defector who worked in the Intelligence Ministry until his 1996 defection and who has provided evidence in several cases about the regime’s resort to terrorism.
The plaintiffs sued for $100 million. Judge Daniels did not award any amount in his decision, but called for a separate hearing to determine an amount. In dozens of such “victims of terrorism” suits, Iran has been ordered to pay victims more than $2 billion.
Many analysts have dismissed talk of an Iranian link with Al-Qaeda because of Al-Qaeda’s strong anti-Shia history. But the court concluded that their shared animosity for the United States was even stronger and overcame their divisions.
The court said the linkage started in 1991 when the Sudanese politician and cleric Hassan at-Turabi actively sought to bridge that Sunni-Shia gap and hosted a visit to Sudan by an Iranian delegation led by then-President Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. Over the coming months Iranian officials and Al-Qaeda met several times in Sudan and reached agreements on cooperation in their shared animosity for the United States and Israel.
The court decision goes on to detail meetings and linkages over the years, including Iran’s authorization for Al-Qaeda operatives—including at least eight of the 9/11 attack’s 19 hijackers—to cross Iran to Afghanistan without any visa stamps in their passports. Iranian stamps in the passports would have been a lightning rod when they sought entry to the United States.
In Tehran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehman-Parast rejected the court’s judgment. But he also conflated the court ruling and Obama Administration political policy, acting as if they were one and the same. He called the assertion of Iranian involvement in the 9/11 attacks “baseless,” and said, “With the repetition of such claims to back its political aims, the United States is putting the peace and security of the world in jeopardy.”
Mehman-Parast said it was not Iran that supported Al-Qaeda, but the United States. He repeated Iran’s long-time assertion that Washington helped found Al-Qaeda and funded it from the beginning.