NEW YORK – Lawyers representing 9/11 families are asking a federal judge to find Iran culpable in the Sept. 11 terror attacks, saying new evidence shows Iranian officials had advanced word of the attacks and helped train the hijackers.
The lawyers filed papers Thursday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan saying there is “clear and convincing” evidence to conclude default judgment damages should be paid to their plaintiffs — families and personal representatives of some of those killed in the attacks.
Supporting their arguments, the lawyers cited the testimony of three defectors from Iran’s intelligence service, the Ministry of Information and Security, saying they worked in positions that gave them access to sensitive information regarding Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism. They said the testimony, part of 28 hours of testimony by four witnesses, supports a claim that Iranian officials had advanced word of the attacks and that Iran helped train those who carried it out.
Iran has not responded to the lawsuit, which was first filed in Washington D.C. and later transferred to New York. A message was left Friday with the Iranian mission to the United Nations.
The Shiite regime in Iran and al-Qaida, a Sunni group, are natural enemies, though they have sometimes had a relationship of convenience based on their shared hatred of the U.S.
The lawyers said Iran and “its proxy terrorist organization,” the Lebanese group Hezbollah, entered into a terrorist alliance with al-Qaida in the early 1990s that continued throughout the preparations for the 2001 attacks. They said Iran and Hezbollah gave material support to al-Qaida after the attacks by helping some of the terrorist group’s leaders and their families escape from the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.
As part of their proof, the lawyers said they were filing videotaped testimony under seal in which three defectors from Iran’s intelligence service “circumstantially and directly” implicate Iran and Hezbollah in the Sept. 11 attacks. Iran and Hezbollah had “foreknowledge of, and complicity in, the overall design of, and preparations for, the 9/11 attacks, involving, but not limited to, facilitation of the hijackers’ international travel, training and through Iran provision of safe haven for al-Qaida after the attacks,” the lawyers wrote.
They said the witnesses, identified in court documents only as “Witnesses X, Y and Z,” also provided testimony revealing that then-senior Hezbollah operative Imad Mughniyah had an integral role in the Iran-Hezbollah-al-Qaida terror alliance. One of the witnesses testified that Iran anticipated a retaliatory strike against Iran if its role in the 9/11 attacks was discovered. Mughniyah died in a car bombing in 2008.
The lawyers said it was necessary to file the testimony under seal because the witnesses have reason to fear for the safety of themselves and their families if the testimony became public.
The lawyers included in their submission portions of the findings reached by the U.S. 9/11 commission, which wrote that there “is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al-Qaida members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers.” They also cited commission findings that evidence suggests that eight to 10 of the Saudi “muscle” operatives used in the attacks traveled into or out of Iran between October 2000 and February 2001.
The commission said it had found no evidence that Iran or Hezbollah were aware of planning for the attacks but said the topic requires further investigation.
In their papers, the lawyers said they had found exactly the evidence that the 9/11 commission had not: “that Iran and Hezbollah were aware of the planning for the 9/11 attacks, and, further, that Iran and Hezbollah were complicit in that planning.”
In a second sealed memorandum, the lawyers say they detailed evidence that “further shows that Iran originated the general design of the 9/11 attacks and Iran provided material support to al-Qaida in connection with the recruitment and training of the 9/11 hijackers as well.”
They also noted that the FBI had concluded after its criminal investigation of the attacks that the willingness of Iranian border officials to refrain from stamping the passports of al-Qaida members helped explain the absence of a clear document trail showing the travels of those members to and from Afghanistan.