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Saudis allege Iran behind bombing

bombing debris

No punishment expected for Air Force officials

December 12, 1996
Web posted at: 2:40 p.m. EST (1940 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Saudi investigators have given the United States evidence of alleged Iranian involvement in a deadly terrorist bombing of a U.S. military housing complex in Saudi Arabia, CNN confirmed Thursday. But U.S. officials have not yet concluded who was behind the incident and the White House says President Clinton has made no decision about any possible U.S. retaliation.

Separately, an Air Force review of the bombing being released on Friday concludes that no Air Force personnel should be punished for failure to do their jobs, CNN has learned. The conclusion is opposite of an earlier Pentagon study.

Source: Evidence presented to U.S. last month


Iran denies involvement in the bombing of Khobar Towers, and U.S. and Saudi officials refused to comment publicly on alleged Iranian participation. But sources familiar with the investigation told CNN the Saudis believe they have substantial evidence that points to Iran.

Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef gave the alleged evidence to FBI Director Louis Freeh last month when Freeh visited Saudi Arabia, the sources said.

Nineteen U.S. Air Force personnel died when a truck loaded with explosives blew up June 25 near the complex where the servicemen were housed in Dhahran.

Report: Air Force personnel acted responsibly

According to Pentagon sources, who spoke on the condition that they not be named, the Air Force review headed by Air Force Lt. Gen. James Record concluded that "every person acted in a reasonable and responsible way" to try to ensure security at the housing complex.

Defense Secretary William Perry ordered the Record investigation in September, following the release of the earlier report. That investigation, headed by retired Army Gen. Wayne Downing, found that the commander at Dhahran failed to protect his forces adequately from terrorist attacks, and that military staff ignored reports of an impending attack.


Sources say Air Force investigators agree with the Pentagon's assessment that commanders failed to protect their troops enough, but concluded that it was not for lack of trying.

According to the new Air Force report, blaming Air Force personnel for not noticing signs of danger is unfair, since they are glaringly obvious only in hindsight. In the new report, Air Force Brig. Gen. Terry Schwalier, who had direct responsibility for the Khobar complex, was found to have acted properly in taking 130 additional security measures.

The report to be released on Friday also says commanders acted appropriately given the confusing intelligence they received, and the unprecedented size of the fuel truck bomb. Fogelman

Pentagon sources told CNN that Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Ronald Fogelman, in reviewing the report, has decided against disciplining the officers involved. He decided that this was a case in which punishing the officers would undercut confidence in commanders in the field, and would create an atmosphere in which commanders could not make decisions.

Although Fogelman is in the Air Force, and might therefore be suspected of being biased, he has shown in the past that he believes in accountability. In the Air Force T-43 plane crash that killed Commerce Secretary Ron Brown and 34 others in April, he took the opposite stance. Several senior Air Force officers received career-ending letters of reprimand for failing to follow orders.

Saudis detail alleged Iranian involvement

Iran's U.N. mission said on Wednesday that media reports implying Iranian involvement were "cynical speculations," devoid of evidence. Saudi officials cited the data provided to the United States as proof the bombing was carried out by Saudi extremists of the Shiite sect of Islam who were allegedly trained in Lebanon and supported by Iran, sources said. The alleged evidence includes statements by some of the 40 Saudi Shiite Muslims questioned as suspects by Saudi police as well as evidence showing that suspects flew to and from Iran through Syria. Sources say the suspects apparently used Iranian passports issued to them by the Iranian Embassy in Syria for segments of the trip between Damascus and Tehran.

Saudi investigators believe the suspects, after returning to Syria, went to Lebanon for training at Iranian-backed terrorist camps and after that went to Saudi Arabia and allegedly conducted the bombing attack.

Correspondents Jamie McIntyre and Anthony Collings contributed to this report.  

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