Families of 9/11 victims and their attorneys have filed a lawsuit asserting that the Islamic Republic of Iran provided critical support for the hijackers, without which the plot might not have succeeded.
“We simply want to make sure that those who are responsible for assisting the Sept. 11 terrorists in their attack on the United States are found accountable for the harm they caused,” said Fiona Havlish whose husband, Donald, perished on the 101st floor of the North Tower.
In an affidavit filed in the case today, former 9/11 Commission staff member Dr. Daniel Byman states that Iran’s assistance to al-Qaida “predated the 9/11 attack and continued after it, and it had profound implications for the 9/11 attack itself.”
Indeed, without Iran’s assistance in facilitating the travel of the 9/11 hijackers to and from Afghanistan, the attack might never have taken place, the lawsuit asserts.
Janice Kephart, another 9/11 Commission staff member who wrote a monograph on the movements of the 9/11 hijackers before the attack, concludes in a separate affidavit that Iran’s assistance to the hijackers “constituted . . . direct support for al-Qaida’s 9/11 attacks.”
While these conclusions were already presented in less dramatic form by the 9/11 Commission in its final report, the commission realized it had only scratched the surface when it came to Iran’s involvement in the attacks.
This is because they only discovered key evidence just one week before the commission sent its final report to the printer in July 2004, when alert staff members discovered a six-page classified analysis summarizing what the U.S. intelligence community had learned about Iran’s assistance to the 9/11 hijackers.
When I first reported on this find in my 2005 book, "Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran," I wrote that the document was literally “buried at the bottom of a huge stack of highly classified documents on other subjects that had been delivered to a special high-security reading room in an undisclosed location in Washington, D.C.”
It referenced 75 distinct source documents, including electronic intercepts — the crown jewels of U.S. intelligence gathering at the time.
Staff Director Philip D. Zelikow phoned the head of the intelligence agency that had generated the report, and asked him to dig out all 75 documents so staff could come read them the following morning at 7:30. “He didn’t care that it was a Sunday. They had to see the documents immediately,” I wrote in "Countdown to Crisis."
The result of that last-minute investigation can be found on pages 240-241 of the 9/11 Commission report, and was considered conclusive enough that it caused President George W. Bush to demand that Iran sever its ties to al-Qaida.
“They're harboring al-Qaida leadership there, and we've asked that they be turned over to their respective countries,” the president said once the report was released. But he reiterated the careful denial of acting CIA director John McLaughlin. "There was no direct connection between Iran and the attacks of Sept. 11,” Bush said.
The secret intelligence reports detailed the travels of about 10 of the hijackers into Iran and back and forth into Afghanistan from October 2000 through February 2001, where they were whisked through border controls without ever getting their passports stamped.
Commission staff members gained access to the travel manifests of the commercial flights the future hijackers used, and compared passenger lists to a secret registry of terrorist identities. And what they discovered was stunning.
In the word of the 9/11 Commission report, “a senior operative of Hezbollah” was on the flights that convoyed the future hijackers from Saudi Arabia to Tehran. It was none other than Imad Mugniyah, Iran’s top terror operative.
In the legal papers filed today in New York, lawyers representing the 9/11 victims weighed the true measure of that revelation for the first time. For Janice Kephart, the revelation that Mugniyah was convoying the future hijackers to Tehran “compels the conclusion that Iran had actual foreknowledge of a major terrorist strike against the United States that was, in fact, the 9/11 attacks."
“This conclusion flows from the fact that Mugniyah was a known terrorist agent of Iran, and, moreover, was a top-level Hezbollah terrorist commander who had attacked, kidnapped, and killed more Americans than any other terrorist in multiple terrorist attacks over the past three decades, at least some of which were at the direction of Iran,” Kephart states.
Mugniyah was assassinated when a bomb was placed in the headrest of his Mitsubishi Pajero in Damascus, Syria on Feb. 14, 2008, apparently by Israeli intelligence.
The lawsuit, known as Fiona Havlish et al., v. Sheik Usamah bin-Muhammad bin-Laden et al., appears to have been languishing in the federal court system since 2002. Successive judges have stricken claims of Iraqi involvement in the plot, claims against the government of Saudi Arabia, and even claims against Saudi banks and specific Saudi princes.
“Today, nearly a decade after the attacks that took so many of our loved ones away, we believe the 9/11 families and the American people deserve to know the full truth about Iran’s complicity,” said Thomas E. Mellon, Jr. of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, law firm of Mellon Webster & Shelly, the lead attorney in the lawsuit against Iran.
The attorneys said they had spent seven years and thousands of hours investigating Iran’s connection to the 9/11 attacks.
“Our experts, including three former 9/11 Commission staff members, have stated that the evidence is ‘clear and convincing’ that the Islamic Republic of Iran was involved in the 9/11 attacks,” said Timothy B. Fleming, the lead investigative attorney in the case, of the D.C. office of the firm Wiggins Childs Quinn & Pantazis.
In its brief presentation of the evidence of Iran’s involvement in the plot, the 9/11 Commission stated tongue-in-cheek that the presence of so many Iranian agents on board flights carrying the future hijackers to Iran could have been nothing more than a “remarkable coincidence.”
But the report concluded that Iran’s involvement in the plot “requires further investigation by the U.S. government.”
“Until now there’s been no indication that any government agency has taken any action to pursue this matter,” said Mellon. “Through interviews with former U.S. government and intelligence officials, members of the 9/11 Commission staff, former Iranian intelligence officers, and a wide variety of non-governmental experts and fact witnesses, we have undertaken this ‘further investigation,’” Mellon added.
The Havlish investigation also debriefed and obtained sworn testimony from three former Iranian intelligence officers, who had direct personal knowledge of Iran’s involvement in the planning and logistics of the 9/11 operation. I took part in those debriefings as a consultant to the Havlish team.
None of these witnesses was ever interviewed by the 9/11 Commission or, with one notable exception, by any element of the United States government.
The Havlish team also presented their evidence to Europe’s top counter-terrorism expert, former French investigative magistrate Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière, who provided a sworn statement detailing information he had discovered in his own investigations of Iran’s long-standing operational ties to al-Qaida.
Among the revelations now entered as evidence in U.S. district court:
- Despite a long-standing belief within the U.S. intelligence community that Shiite Iran would not cooperate with Sunni organizations such as al-Qaida, Iran has systematically set aside sectarian differences when it comes to terror plots and has been helping Sunni organizations since the inception of the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
- Iran’s cooperation with al-Qaida dates from 1992-1993, when Iran sent Mugniyah to the Sudan along with a top IRGC general to meet with Osama bin Laden.
- Mugniyah began training al-Qaida operatives at terror camps in Lebanon in 1994, and later built special camps in Iran to train al-Qaida terrorists before and after the 9/11 attacks. The Iranian leadership designated Mugniyah as their point man for coordinating the 9/11 attacks with al-Qaida.
- In the months preceding 9/11, Mugniyeh accompanied top al-Qaida operatives from Afghanistan to Tehran, including Ayman al Zawahiri, Osama Bin Laden’s chief deputy, for meetings with top Iranian leaders.
- The 9/11 plot was based on a pre-existing Iranian government plan to use aircraft to attack buildings in major American cities.
- Iran’s involvement in the 9/11 plot occurred with the explicit approval of the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran and was supervised by his office as well as by the Ministry of Information and Security (MOIS) and the al-Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
- Before 9/11, Iran purchased through MOIS front companies in Hong Kong and China a flight simulator to train pilots on Boeing 757-767-777 aircraft, even though Iran had no such aircraft in its inventory. (On 9/11, two of the hijacked aircraft were 757s, the other two were 767s.) Iran installed the flight simulator at a secure military base in Tehran.
- Since 9/11, Iran has sheltered and provided support, including training, weapons, and money for future terror operations, to top al-Qaida operatives. Among these Iranian terror protégés was Saif al Adil, who reportedly succeeded Osama bin Laden as al-Qaida’s chief this week.
“When Tim Fleming and I joined this coalition of attorneys representing the 9/11 families, our immediate and ultimate goal was to provide the families with a full accounting of what happened, how it happened, and who was responsible for that terrible day in September 2001,” said Dennis Pantazis, of the Birmingham, Alabama law firm of Wiggins Childs Quinn & Pantazis.
“These families have waited nearly 10 years to hear the truth. Now, under the scrutiny of a federal Judge, hopefully this will be accomplished,” he added.
“The Sept. 11 attacks were an attack on the American way of life and on the American belief in a civil society where we respect others and resolve our differences in an orderly and peaceful way,” said Ellen Saracini, the widow of Victor Saracini, Captain of United Flight 175, the second aircraft to hit the World Trade Center.
“It is only appropriate that those who are attacking our way of life are found accountable in our American system,” she said.
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