US judge: Iran must pay $6bn to victims of 9/11 attacks

Lawsuit alleges Iran trained September 11 hijackers but official investigation found no evidence of Iranian involvement.

A man looks back toward lower Manhattan and One World Trade Center while riding the Liberty Landing Ferry across the Hudson River on the 16th anniversary of the September 11 attacks in New York, U.S.
JASTA has opened sovereign nations to lawsuits for their involvement in 'terrorist' attacks [Andrew Kelly/Reuters]

A judge in the US has issued a default judgement requiring Iran to pay more than $6bn to victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks that killed almost 3,000 people, court filings show.

Monday’s ruling in the case – Thomas Burnett, Sr et al v. The Islamic Republic of Iran et al – finds “the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and The Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran” liable for the deaths of more than 1,000 people as a result of the September 11 attacks, Judge George B Daniels of the Southern District Court of New York wrote. 

Iran is ordered to pay “$12,500,000 per spouse, $8,500,000 per parent, $8,500,000 per child, and $4,250,000 per sibling” to the families and estates of the deceased, court filings say.

A 4.96 annual interest rate will also be applied to the amount, starting from September 11, 2001 to the date of the judgement.

A default judgement is issued when a defendant does not contest the case in court.

Daniels issued other default judgements against Iran in 2011 and 2016 that ordered the Islamic Republic to pay victims and insurers billions of dollars for damages and deaths in the hijacker attacks.

Iran has not commented on the cases. 

Allegations against Iran, Saudi Arabia

Though the lawsuit alleged Iran supported the hijackers with training and other assistance, any Iranian involvement in the attacks remains unclear.

The 9/11 Commission, which was tasked with preparing a “full and complete account of the circumstances surrounding” the attacks, found no evidence of direct Iranian support, other than certain 9/11 hijackers travelled through Iran on their way to Afghanistan, without having their passports stamped.

Saudi Arabia remains the main target of US citizens looking for damages in relation to the attacks.

The judgement against Iran was issued in a court case consisting of more than 40 lawsuits that have been consolidated over the years.

Plaintiffs allege that Saudi Arabia provided material support to the 19 hijackers who crashed commercial airliners into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington.

Another plane, reportedly targeting the White House, crashed in a field in Pennsylvania after passengers confronted the hijackers.

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens. Plaintiffs are seeking billions of dollars in damages from Saudi Arabia.

JASTA lawsuits

Typically, sovereign governments are immune from lawsuits in US courts.

That changed in 2016 when the US passed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which opened states up to lawsuits involving their alleged participation in international acts of “terrorism”.

Saudi Arabia, which has long been an alleged supporter of the attacks, engaged in a massive lobbying campaign in the US to block the act’s passage.

Campaign tactics included misrepresenting legal consequences of passing the law by telling policymakers and veterans that US soldiers could be sued in foreign courts.

Lobbying and public relations firms hired by Saudi Arabia paid for veterans to fly to Washington, DC, in order to visit legislators and argue against JASTA’s passing.

News reports said some veterans did not know their trips were paid for by the Saudis.

Source: Al Jazeera