Civil status —
Occupation government Employee
Affiliation no political affiliation
Affiliation state owned institution
Date of execution April 18, 1983
Location Beirut, Lebanon
Mode of execution bombing
Charges Unknown charge
About this case
Mr. Riad Sayyid Ahmad was one of 63 victims of the bombing of the American Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, which took place on April 18, 1983. At approximately 1:05 PM, a truck loaded with nearly 2,000 pounds of explosives careened through the driveway of the American embassy and crashed into the building. A massive explosion ripped through all seven levels of the embassy, sending debris flying hundreds of feet into the air and causing the burning building to collapse on itself. In addition to those who lost their lives, at least 120 people were injured. At the time, it was the deadliest attack on an American diplomatic mission since World War II. Mr. Sayyid Ahmad was one of 38 local employees of the American Embassy (36 Lebanese, one Tunisian, and one Egyptian) who were killed in the explosion.
Mr. Sayyid Ahmad is in Omid because of the overwhelming evidence connecting the Islamic Republic of Iran to the 1983 bombing at the American embassy in Beirut. This attack, claimed by a group called “Islamic Jihad,” was the first in a series of related bombings carried out in Lebanon between 1983 and 1984, which claimed at least 396 lives. In the early 1980s, Lebanon was a highly volatile country, home to conflicting military and political agendas and where the Islamic Republic exercised growing influence with the stated aim of spreading the Islamic Revolution. Already hostile to American influence in the Middle East and further angered by the United States’ military support of Iraq, Iran’s foe in the Iran-Iraq war, the Islamic Republic’s leaders became exasperated when, following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the summer of 1982, the United States brokered a Lebanese-Israeli truce and deployed a large contingent of American servicemen in the framework of a Multinational Peacekeeping Force.
“Islamic Jihad” was a heretofore little-noticed group known only for a string of grenade attacks launched on French, Italian, and American members of the Multinational Force in March of 1983. When it claimed responsibility for the embassy bombing, “Islamic Jihad” declared that the attack was “part of the Iranian revolution’s campaign against imperialist targets throughout the world.” The group promised that “We shall keep striking at any imperialist presence in Lebanon, including the Multinational Force.” (Two massive bomb attacks against American and French servicemen indeed followed on October 23, 1983). “Islamic Jihad” was a shadowy subset of Hezbollah (Party of God), a radical, armed Shi’ite organization with deep ideological and organizational ties to the Islamic Republic of Iran.
As early as August of 1979, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, had alluded to the establishment of a “Party of God” that would unite Muslims around the goal of resisting American and Israeli designs for the Middle East. “So far, the oppressed have been disunited and nothing happens through disunity. Now that an example of the unity of the downtrodden has materialized in the land of Muslims [the Islamic Revolution], this example will have to be applied in a wider context, to encompass all humanity, through the establishment of a ‘Party of the Downtrodden,’ which is the same as the ‘Party of God’ [Hezbollah], and which is in line with the exalted will of God … Past mistakes must be rectified through Muslim unity and the establishment of the ‘Party of the Downtrodden’ against the great powers, led by the criminal America and its very corrupt stooge, Israel.”*
Punishing those who supported Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war was another publicly discussed subject. The Islamic Republic’s leaders were blunt about the potential consequences of the United States’ support for Iraq. As Khomeini stated in a speech of July 25, 1982, “If we see that … governments are giving financial and military assistance to the Iraqi government, we consider them guilty … we will deal with them as we do with guilty people, and we will enforce the Islamic sentences concerning them.”
Ayatollah Khomeini repeatedly demonized the United States and expressed concern about its influence in the Muslim world. He emphasized that Muslims had a duty to rise up against “autocratic” leaders and that Iran would help them drive America out. In his speeches, he routinely called on Muslims, both Sunni and Shia, to follow the Iranian line on matters of foreign policy. “Muslims’ problems are all caused by great powers and their insinuations and suggestions to their stooges in the region,” he said in January of 1983. “All problems are caused by them, and these problems will not be resolved unless we rid ourselves of them.”
Khomeini was particularly harsh when it came to Egypt and Lebanon:
“Is it not shameful for Muslims that a country … which is considered the enemy of Islam and the enemy of humanity, reaches out from the other side of the world to determine the fate of Muslim countries? ... America pursues its corrupt goals through [Islamic and Arab] governments dependent on it, through wicked writers and speakers, and Muslims are just sitting [and doing nothing]. Is it not our duty? Do Muslims have no duties any longer in this day and age?”
Days after the Israeli invasion of south Lebanon, in mid-June 1982, Iran openly stated through the Speaker of the Parliament, Hashemi Rafsanjani, that it planned to use a proxy to expel the United States from Lebanon. “We must not be afraid of confronting America,” he said. “If America becomes embroiled in this war [in Lebanon] with Muslims, it would be in our interest, and it would end America’s intervention in the region.” Once the American peacekeepers had arrived in Lebanon, Rafsanjani again warned that “the occupation of Lebanon, this small, sectarian and war-stricken country,” would inevitably bring “revenge.”
As early as 1982, the Islamic Republic’s leadership, responding to Ayatollah Khomeini’s call for an organized effort to drive the United States out of Lebanon, had begun the process of transforming Hezbollah from loose, uncoordinated groups of Islamist militants into an organized and trained fighting force. Following the Israeli invasion, Iran deployed a contingent of 1,500 Revolutionary Guards to Baalbek, a city in eastern Lebanon and a hub of Shi'ite activism. In a speech delivered June 13, 1982, the Speaker of Parliament alluded to the training mission of the Revolutionary Guards when he stated that a confrontation with the United States and Israel would be undertaken “with the assistance of Islamic states, in particular the resistance front that we are creating.” He went on to say, “We must resist, stay and fight in a bid to deal with Israel once and for all.” In Baalbek, the Revolutionary Guards, in coordination with the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), began training militants, providing them with weapons, paying them salaries and healthcare subsidies, and cultivating their ideological allegiance to the Islamic Republic by sending pro-Iranian clerics into the city’s mosques.
Hezbollah pledged loyalty to the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader and depended on Iran for its funding, military training, and matériel. Iranian officials were also entrenched in Hezbollah’s highest governing body, the “consultative” (shoura) council, which handed down policy, strategy, and orders for Hezbollah operations. Two (sometimes one) Iranian officials sat on the Consultative Council, including, in the early 1980s, Iran’s then-ambassador to Syria, Ali Akbar Mohtashami; the chargé d’affaires in Lebanon; and diplomatic staff at the Iranian embassy in Beirut. There were additional ties between Iran and Hezbollah officials.**
Further, according to investigators, the attack on the embassy required not only training but financial backing; in Hezbollah’s early history these two dimensions were almost entirely under Iranian control. A plethora of evidence corroborating Iranian involvement in this and other “Islamic Jihad” bombings was collected by American intelligence agencies.*** Forensic evidence also pointed towards the intervention of a state actor.
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, sent in to investigate the embassy bombing, identified the explosive used in the attack as the “bulk form” of PETN (pentaerythritol tetranitrate). The FBI came to this conclusion because PETN of the variety available commercially is wholly consumed in an explosion; however, in this case, there remained unconsumed particles of PETN at the blast site. This indicated that the explosive was the “bulk form” of PETN, a form generally not available commercially and which could only be procured from the manufacturer. According to the FBI’s on-scene forensic explosive investigator, in the Middle East, the bulk form of PETN was produced for military purposes by state-sponsored manufacturers. Such factories did not exist in Lebanon, but bulk form PETN was being manufactured in Iran. Incidentally, the same explosive was used in the October 21, 1983, bombing that killed 241 American servicemen.****
Investigations by the American media also revealed the existence of intelligence, not necessarily verifiable, on Iran’s involvement in the attack. For example, Washington Post investigative journalist Jack Anderson reported on May 10, 1983 that the National Security Agency had intercepted “communications … [that] gave a clear indication that a pro-Iranian Shiite Moslem group, fanatically loyal to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, was planning to bomb the embassy in Beirut.” The same article noted that analysis of the available intelligence led to the conclusion that “preparations for the bomb attack were supervised by a high official in the Iranian Foreign Ministry, who also gave final approval.”
Further, Iran’s role became apparent in another attack against the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in 1984. As David Martin of CBS News and John Walcott of the Wall Street Journal reported in Best Laid Plans, their investigation of American anti-terrorism policy in the 1980s, satellite imagery obtained by the Central Intelligence Agency showed that the Revolutionary Guards were involved in the preparation of the bombing of the American Embassy Annex on September 20, 1984. Images of the Shaykh Abdallah barracks, which were controlled by the Guards and housed both American hostages held by Hezbollah and Hezbollah fighters, showed an exact replica of the concrete barriers guarding the U.S. Embassy Annex, in the vicinity of the barracks. Upon closer inspection, the images were found to show tire tracks swerving between the mock-up concrete blocks, suggesting that this Iranian-controlled location was where the suicide bomber had trained for the operation against the American Embassy.
Finally, Iranian leaders boasted, directly and indirectly, of their responsibility for the string of bombings on American targets in 1983-1984. One such example is the statement by Mohsen Rafiqdust, who at the time of the bombing served as commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. In a speech delivered July 20, 1987, Rafiqdust boasted that the explosive in the Multinational Forces bombing of October 23, 1983, had indeed come from Iran: “In the victory of the revolution in Lebanon … the United States has felt our power on its ugly body; and it knows that both the TNT and the ideology that, in one blast, sent to hell 400 officers, NCOs, and soldiers at the Marine Headquarters, were provided by Iran.”
Taken together, Iran’s activities in Lebanon, the stated motives of punishing the United States and driving it out of Lebanon, and other statements of the Islamic Republic’s leaders make the case for their involvement in the bombing of the American Embassy. The April 18, 1983, bombing, the first in a chain of bombings throughout the 1980s and in 1994, also fits the Islamic Republic’s pattern of using violence against civilians to further its foreign policy agenda.
Notes for the “About this case” section:
Information about the life of Mr. Sayyid Ahmad has been gathered from the online memorial to victims of the Embassy bombing maintained by the American Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon.
Notes for the “Background” section:
*Sources for the statements presented (in order of appearance):
1. Ruhollah Khomeini, Speech of August 7, 1979 on the occasion of Qods day in Qom (Iran), Sahife-ye Emam (Collected works and speeches of Imam Khomeini), Vol. 9, p.280.
2. Ruhollah Khomeini, Speech of July 25, 1982 before the Hoseiniyeh Jamaran (Tehran), Sahife-ye Emam, Vol. 16, p. 393.
3. Ruhollah Khomeini, Speech of January 2, 1983 before the Hoseyniyeh Jamaran (Tehran), Sahife-ye Emam, Vol. 17, pp. 208-209.
4. Hashemi Rafsanjani, Speech of June 13, 1982 before Parliament, Notqha-ye Qabl Az Dastur (Addresses of Hashemi Rafsanjani before Parliament), p.130.
5. Hashemi Rafsanjani, Speech of September 7, 1982 before Parliament, Notqha-ye Qabl Az Dastur, pp. 132-133. The full quote reads: “We say to America and Israel: do not become arrogant over this limited victory of occupation of Lebanon, this small, sectarian and war-stricken country. No matter how big a force you deploy there, you will not be as strong as the Shah was in Iran; sooner or later, nations lose patience and it is then that they will take revenge.”
6. Hashemi Rafsanjani, Speech of June 13, 1982 before Parliament, Notqha-ye Qabl Az Dastur (Addresses of Hashemi Rafsanjani before Parliament), p.130. The full quote reads: “In Lebanon today, these Sa‘’ad Haddads [creator of the South Lebanon Army, a faction allied with Israel], Phalangists [a right-wing Christian faction in Lebanon], America and several other forces are on the side of Israel. With the assistance of Islamic states, in particular the resistance front that we are creating; we must resist, stay and fight in a bid to deal with Israel once and for all. Moreover, we must not be afraid of confronting America. If America becomes embroiled in this war with Muslims it would be in our interest and it would end America's intervention in the region.”
7. Mohsen Rafiqdust, speech reported in Iran’s state-run newspaper, Resalat, July 20, 1987, p. 8.
**Hussein Musawi, the leader of Islamic Amal, a group closely tied to Hezbollah, was a protégé of Mostafa Chamran, an important public figure in the Islamic Revolution. Before the 1979 Iranian revolution, Chamran had helped establish Amal, the main Shi‘ite political party in Lebanon; he later served as Iran’s Defense Minister from 1979 to 1981. The Lebanese cleric Ibrahim al-Amin was, in the early 1980s, Amal’s representative in Tehran. He defected to “Islamic Amal” when this group (eventually incorporated into Hezbollah) was established by Hussein Musawi following the Israeli invasion of June 1982; Al-Amin returned to Beirut in August of 1983 and shortly thereafter became a Hezbollah spokesperson, and issued Hezbollah’s manifesto in 1985. Sheikh Muhammad Ismail Khaliq, another senior Hezbollah official, was the personal representative in Lebanon of Iran’s Ayatollah Montazeri, whose son Mohammad founded and at the time supervised the Office of Liberation Movements, a department run by the Revolutionary Guards which was responsible for supporting opposition movements abroad. Ali Akbar Mohtashami, the Iranian Ambassador to Syria who served on Hezbollah’s shoura council in the early 1980s, meanwhile, had cultivated close ties to Hezbollah’s future leaders during his studies under Ayatollah Khomeini at a theological seminary in Najaf (Iraq).
***Some of this information was officially made public or declassified, some was leaked to the press or disclosed in memoirs, and some came to light in the course of civil suits filed against the Islamic Republic of Iran in the early 2000s. To cite just a few examples: Regarding the 1983 American Embassy bombing, the Washington Post’s Jack Anderson reported in the May 10, 1983 article cited above that the National Security Intercepts reported to the United States government in the National Intelligence Daily (classified above top-secret) of April 20, 1983, and which pointed to Iranian designs to strike at the American Embassy, had been corroborated by human intelligence gathered by the CIA. Six days after Anderson published his article, on May 16, 1983, CBS News reported similar information – that unspecified “U.S. intelligence agencies” had intercepted, among other transmissions, a cable from the Iranian Foreign Ministry to the Iranian Embassy in Damascus authorizing “a $25,000 payment for a terrorist attack against an unidentified installation in Beirut.” In his Washington Post article, Anderson noted that the Intelligence Daily was “hedged with suggestions that the intelligence information could not be verified, and in at least one case came from an untested source.” Nonetheless, further information divulged to the Miami Herald and published December 7, 1986 indicated that a distinct, $1 million transfer was made “from the government of Iran to the Iranian Embassy in Lebanon, where it was disbursed for the bombings of the U.S. Embassy and the Marine barracks.” Whereas the White House had never publicly confirmed the information leaks in 1983, the Miami Herald’s report was corroborated by an unnamed White House official. Regarding the 1983 Marine barracks bombing, in addition to the forensic evidence mentioned above, Bob Woodward reported in his 1987 book Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987 (p.275) that according to Israeli intelligence that was passed on to the United States, a “shadowy Lebanese financial emissary” named Hassan Hamiz had cashed a $50,000 voucher at the Iranian Embassy in Damascus, Syria; the emissary had close ties to Ali Akbar Mohtashami, Iran’s then-Ambassador to Syria, who had close connections to Hezbollah and served on its governing council. Further, a Hezbollah member testifying under the cover of anonymity in the civil suit Peterson v. Islamic Republic of Iran filed in the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia stated that the suicide bomber who had driven the truck into the Marine Barracks was Iranian (testimony cited in the Memorandum Opinion by the Honorable Royce C. Lamberth, May 20, 2003, 264 F.Supp.2d at 54-56). Evidence introduced in the same suit (Peterson v. Islamic Republic of Iran) showed that on October 25, 1983, American naval intelligence was notified of the intercept of a message sent from Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security to Ambassador Mohtashami in Damascus. The message instructed the Ambassador to contact Hussein Musawi, the leader of Islamic Amal (a group with close ties to Hezbollah) and instruct him to carry out attacks against the Multinational Forces, and specifically to “take a spectacular action against the United States Marines.” (See testimony of Admiral James A. Lyons, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Plans, Policy and Operation from 1983-85, in Peterson v. Islamic Republic of Iran, cited in the Memorandum Opinion by the Honorable Royce C. Lamberth, May 20, 2003, 264 F.Supp.2d at 54. Reports as to whom Ambassador Mohtashami in fact contacted vary, but all reports concerning the telephone conversation report the instruction to carry out a “spectacular action against the United States Marines”). According to the New York Times of October 5, 1984 (p. A1), the Central Intelligence Agency, prior to the 1984 Embassy Annex bombing, had indications that Iran was assisting the transfer of explosives from Syria into Lebanon. This information was confirmed by the U.S. Senate report on the September bombing, which stated that before the bombing, “US intelligence was aware of certain patterns of activity involving the transport of explosives by Iranians operating in Damascus under the shield of diplomatic immunity.” (The security of American personnel in Lebanon: A staff report prepared for the committee on foreign relations United States Senate, October 1984, Government Printing Office).
****Mr. Danny Defenbaugh, the FBI’s lead explosives investigator for the two Embassy bombings and the Marine barracks bombing, gave this testimony before the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia in the course of the civil suit Peterson v. Islamic Republic of Iran. The suit was filed by relatives of the 214 American servicemen who died in the October 23, 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks. For the relevant citations from Mr. Defenbaugh’s testimony, see the Memorandum Opinion by the Honorable Royce C. Lamberth, May 20, 2003, 264 F.Supp.2d at 56-58.
*****The bombing at the American Embassy was not the last act of terror of this kind, nor were Americans the only ones targeted. A number of bombings in the 1980s appear to have connections to the Islamic Republic, including at least four in Lebanon, six in Kuwait, and eleven in France. Together with related assassinations and hostage-takings, these acts of terror killed over 400 men, women, and children (262 Americans, 76 Lebanese, 71 Frenchmen, 6 Iranians, and 11 persons of other nationalities have so far been identified).
References: Background research was conducted through interviews of persons familiar with the events or involved with the investigations,
and through consultation of sources including, but not limited to:
1. Monographs (in chronological order):
David C. Martin and John Walcott, Best Laid Plans: The Inside Story of America's War Against Terrorism (1988);
Robert “Bob” Woodward, Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987 (1988);
Robert Fisk, Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War (first published 1990);
Howard Teicher and Gayle Radley Teicher, Twin Pillars to Desert Storm: America's Flawed Vision in the Middle East From Nixon to Bush (1993);
Roger Faligot and Rémi Kauffer, Histoire mondiale du renseignement. Tome 2, Les maîtres espions : de la guerre froide à nos jours (1994);
Magnus Ranstorp, Hizb'allah in Lebanon: The Politics of the Western Hostage Crisis (1997);
Robert Baer, See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War Against Terrorism (2003);
and Augustus Richard Norton, Hezbollah: A Short History (2007).
2. Scholarly articles such as:
Marius Deeb, “Militant Islamic Movements in Lebanon: Origins, Social Basis, and Ideology,” Georgetown University Center for Contemporary Arab Studies Occasional Papers (November 1986), 27 pages;
Simon Shapira, “The Origins of Hizballah,” Jerusalem Quarterly, No. 46 (Spring 1988), pp. 115-130;
Augustus Richard Norton, “Hizballah and the Israeli Withdrawal from Southern Lebanon,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 30, No. 1 (Autumn 2000), pp. 22-35;
and Magnus Ranstorp, “The Hizballah Training Camps of Lebanon,” in James Forest, ed., The Making of a Terrorist: Recruitment, Training, and Root Causes, Vol. 2 (2006), Chapter 15, pp.243-262, notes pp. 364-367.
3. Newspaper and magazine articles including:
Mohammed Selhami, “J’ai rencontré les ‘hommes suicide’,” Jeune Afrique, January 25, 1984, pp. 41-51;
Bob Woodward, Richard Harwood, and Christian Williams, “The Terror Factor,” a six-part series published in The Washington Post between February 1 and 12, 1984;
Robert Fisk, “Iranian radical looks to ‘life’ after Madrid,” The Independent, October 23, 1991;
Mark Bowden, “The Dark Art of Interrogation,” The Atlantic, October 2003;
as well as a large number of reports covering topics such Iranian foreign policy, American-Iranian relations, and Iranian connections to acts of terror.
In addition to articles cited in the footnotes above, these reports were published between 1983 and 1988 in news sources including but not limited to the Associated Press,
United Press International, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times,
as well as the Lebanese newspapers Al-Nahar, Al-Nida, Al-Watan Al-Arabi, Monday Morning, and L'Orient-Le Jour.
4. Reports of the Foreign Broadcast Information Service dated
May 17, 1982;
July 27, 1982;
July 28, 1982;
May 6, 1983;
May 19, 1983;
January 1, 1984;
March 25, 1984;
March 26, 1984;
March 30, 1984; and
June 26, 1984.
5. Speeches and statements of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Hojatoleslam Hashemi Rafsanjani
(published, respectively, as Sahife-ye Emam, meaning “Collected works and speeches of Imam Khomeini,” and Notqha-ye Qabl Az Dastur, meaning “Addresses of Hashemi Rafsanjani before Parliament”).
6. Court opinions and exhibits associated with the following civil suits brought against the Islamic Republic of Iran in the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia:
(a) “Decision and Order” by the Honorable Thomas P. Jackson, Anderson v. Islamic Republic of Iran, et al. (No. CIV.A.99-0698, a suit filed by journalist Terry Anderson, held hostage by Hezbollah for seven years), March 24, 2000, 90 F.Supp.2d 107, particularly at 112;
(b) “Opinion” by the Honorable Paul L. Friedman, Surette v. Islamic Republic of Iran, et al. (No. CIV.A.01-0570, a suit filed by the longtime partner of CIA officer Robert Buckley, who died in Hezbollah captivity), November 1, 2002 as amended November 4, 2002, 231 F.Supp.2d 260, particularly at 266;
(c) “Memorandum Opinion” by the Honorable Royce C. Lamberth, Peterson v. Islamic Republic of Iran, et al. (Nos. CIV.A. 01-2094 and CIV.A.01-2684, suits filed by relatives of the 241 American servicemen killed in the Marine Barracks bombing on October 23, 1983), May 30, 2003, 264 F.Supp.2d 46, particularly at 51-58 and Footnote 10;
(d) “Memorandum Opinion (Findings and Conclusions)” by the Honorable John D. Bates, Dammarell v. Islamic Republic of Iran, et al. (No. CIV.A.01-2224, a suit filed by relatives of the American victims of the bombing of the American Embassy on April 18, 1983), September 8, 2003, 281 F.Supp.2d 105, particularly Exhibits 8, 9, 10, 17, 19, 22, 27, 28, 30, 31, and 34;
(e) “Report and Recommendation” by the Honorable Alan C. Kay, Welch v. Islamic Republic of Iran, et al. (No. CIV.A.01-863, a suit filed by relatives of Chief Warrant Officer Kenneth Welch (U.S. Army), killed in the bombing of the American Embassy Annex on September 20, 1984), September 20, 2007, 2007 WL 7688043 (D.D.C.), particularly WL page 6 (testimony of Dr. Bruce Tefft);
(f) “Findings of Fact and Conclusion of Law” by the Honorable Ricardo M. Urbina, Kilburn v. Islamic Republic of Iran, et al. (No. CIV.A.01-1301, a suit filed by relatives of Peter Kilburn, an librarian at the American University in Beirut who died in Hezbollah captivity), March 30, 2010, 699 F.Supp.2d 136, particularly at 141-145 and 148;
and (g) “Decision and Order” by the Honorable Thomas P. Jackson, Wagner v. Islamic Republic of Iran, et al., (No. Civ.A.00-1799, a suit filed by relatives of Petty Officer First Class Michael R. Wagner (U.S. Navy), killed in the bombing of the American Embassy Annex on September 20, 1984), November 6, 2011, 172 F.Supp.2d 128, particularly at 132.
Human rights violations in this case
The legal context
Read about the courts, the judges, and the procedure.
Special courts, known as the Islamic Revolutionary Tribunals, were set up after the February 1979 revolution. Their jurisdiction encompasses a wide array of offences ranging from association with or support of the former regime, promotion of foreign influence, and enmity with the revolution to possession, use or sales of narcotic drugs, murder, and profiteering. In the 1980s, a penal court, presided over by one judge, was created to handle some of the offenses punishable by death, such as theft or adultery. These tribunals’ decisions must be confirmed by a chamber of the Supreme Judicial Council.
Prosecutors and judges are not necessarily jurists. By 1981, the judiciary was purged of judges trained in law schools. They were replaced by seminary graduates and students, as well as by political appointees (an estimated 2000 by 1989). Since by law judges are only required to have a high school diploma and must be faithful to the Islamic Republic’s tenets, new recruits often have little formal training in the law and are chosen because of their political affiliation.
The procedures of these ecclesiastical tribunals fail to meet the minimum guarantees for fair trial as established by international human rights instruments and by sha’ria (the Islamic system of law). In addition to executions ordered by revolutionary tribunals, extra-judicial executions are carried out, targeting dissidents and opposition leaders. In some cases, both inside and outside of Iran, these executions have been traced back to Iranian officials. It is, however, not known if in these particular cases trials are held in absentia.
Sources (Among others): Amnesty International, Law and Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, February 1980; Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights, The Justice System of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 1992; E/CN.4/1989/26 p.14; UNCHR, Resolution 1984/54 , Abolition of Torture - Iran - 1; 28 November 1984; Report on the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran by the Special Representative of the Commission, Mr. Reynaldo Galindo Pohl, 28 January 1987. Amnesty International, A SHOCKED WORLD WATCHES IN DISBELIEF, VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS, 1987-1990. Memoirs of Ayatollah Khalkhali, religious judge and former head of revolutionary tribunals (2001), and Ayatollah Montazeri, dismissed successor to Ayatollah Khomeini (2001). UNCH, E/CN.4/1994/50, Final report on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran prepared by the Special Representative of the Commission on Human Rights, Mr. Reynaldo Galindo Pohl, pursuant to Commission resolution 1993/62 of 10 March 1993 and Economic and Social Council decision 1993/273. E/CN.4/1994/50, 2 February 1994.
Extrajudicial killings and the Islamic Republic: A decades-long pattern
Read more about the pattern of extrajudicial killings ordered by the Islamic Republic authorities.
Since the inception of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations’ Commission on Human Rights, have blamed the Islamic regime for the extrajudicial killing of its opponents, both within and outside of its borders. Although over two hundred cases have been reported, the exact number of victims remains unknown.
Extrajudicial executions carried out in Iran are rarely investigated; the few cases that have been investigated have indicated that the Iranian state security apparatus has been involved. Agents of the Islamic Republic have also targeted dissidents outside the country, assassinating opposition members in the Philippines, Indonesia, Japan, India, and Pakistan in Asia; Dubai, Iraq, and Turkey in the Middle East; Cyprus, France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Norway, Sweden, and Great Britain in Western Europe; and across the Atlantic in the United States,.
In many of these cases local authorities have made no arrests. However, investigations, when they have taken place and been made public, have led to the single hypothesis of State ordered crimes. The organization and execution of these crimes constitute a pattern that Swiss prosecutor Roland Chatelain describes as “common parameters” following a “meticulous preparation.” Similarities between different cases in different countries have created a coherent set of presumptions designating the Islamic Republic as the instigator of these assassinations. In cases involving prominent Iranians assassinated in France, Germany, and Switzerland, local prosecutors have provided evidence linking Iranian authorities to the crimes in question. In France, for example, the Iranian Deputy Minister of Telecommunications has been sentenced to life imprisonment for his involvement in the 1991 murder of two dissidents. In Germany, agents of Iran's secret services and Lebanese Hezbollah have been convicted for the 1992 murder of four dissidents in Berlin. Currently, the Islamic Republic's Minister of Information and Security at the time of this murder is under an International arrest Warrant launched by German judicial authorities for his involvement. Furthermore, the German court found that Iran's political leadership ordered the murder through a "Committee for Special Operations," whose members reportedly include the Leader of the Islamic Republic, the President, the Minister of Information and Security, and other security officials.
The Islamic Republic’s officials have claimed responsibility for some of these assassinations while denying involvement in others. In the 1980s, Iranian authorities justified extrajudicial executions of dissidents and members of the former regime and actively worked for the release of Iranians and non-Iranian agents who were detained or convicted in the West for their involvement in those killings. During the 1990s, they systematically denied any involvement in extrajudicial killings and often credited the killings to infighting amongst the opposition. Still, the rationale supporting these killings was articulated as early as in the spring of 1979 when the First Revolutionary religious judge publicly announced the regime's intention to carry out extrajudicial executions. He said: “no state has the right to try as a terrorist the person who kills [exiles] in foreign lands, for this person is implementing the verdict issued by the Islamic Revolutionary tribunal.” More than a decade later, in August, 1992, the Minister of Intelligence and Security publicly boasted about the success of Iran's security forces, alluding to the elimination of dissidents: "We have been able to deal blows to many of the mini-groups outside the country and on the borders...."
Rights and obligations
The deliberate targeting of civilians for attack can never be justified. The bombing of the US Embassy has caused terrible suffering to victims and their families and has violated their most fundamental human rights. This suffering is often made worse by the failure of states to properly investigate and bring those responsible to justice, to expose the truth about what has happened, or to provide survivors with access to justice or reparations.
In his report dated June 4, 2012, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Ben Emmerson, stated:
“Terrorist acts often affect a large number of direct victims, whose most fundamental human rights, such as their right to life and their rights to physical security and moral integrity, have been violated or threatened.”1 He also identified as victims “natural persons who are the next of kin or dependents of a direct victim of terrorism” and others including eye witnesses and rescue workers.
Thirty years after the attack of the US Embassy in Beirut, little has been done to ensure the fundamental right of the victims to effective remedy. The basic principles underlying these rights are enumerated in international and regional instruments such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Articles 2(3), 15(2) and 14(1), and the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, Articles 10 and 25.
In his report, the Special Rapporteur made a strong case for the responsibility of states to take an active role in guaranteeing the rights of victims of terrorism, both direct and indirect. He stated that “full and effective reparation” for victims must include, among other elements,
restitution, meaning restoration of the status quo ante, where possible;
compensation, including monetary awards for pecuniary and non-pecuniary loss resulting from the violation, along with coverage of legal costs, etc.;
rehabilitation, such as medical or psychological care, and other social services;
satisfaction, including “full and public verification of the facts, and formal acceptance of any State responsibility”; and
guarantees of non-repetition, achieved through exhaustive investigations and appropriate administrative and statutory reforms which could preclude the reoccurrence of a terrorist act in the future.
Following a grave violation of human rights, states have a number of obligations relating to investigations and prosecutions. These include the obligation to “Investigate violations effectively, promptly, thoroughly and impartially,” the results of which investigations must be transparent and made public, and further, “where appropriate, [to] take action against those allegedly responsible.”2 In his report, the Special Rapporteur also noted that such investigations must be transparent, accountable, and independent; that they must involve the victims, who are to be regularly informed of their progress; and that they must lead to prosecutions whenever suspects are identified.
The Lebanese government’s investigations of the bombing of the American Embassy fail to meet the aforementioned international standards; to name just one failure, the results of such an investigation have not been made public after three decades. In the aftermath of the bombing, the Lebanese police cooperated in investigations with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and other American agencies. The Lebanese authorities also arrested a number of individuals, but most of the suspects were released in the years that followed. To the best of our knowledge, the last attempt by Lebanese authorities to call a criminal trial dates back to 1996, when fifteen suspects were indicted. It was reported, however, that the indicted suspects had already been released in 1993.3 No other developments regarding the prosecution of suspects have been reported since then.
States also have a number of obligations relating to ensuring victims’ access to justice. These include the obligation to “provide those who claim to be victims of a human rights or humanitarian law violation with equal and effective access to justice”4; and finally, the obligation to “provide effective remedies to victims,” which should be “adequate, effective and prompt.”5 In his report, Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson made a further argument – that states’ official investigation must be conducted ex officio: “once the matter has come to the attention of the authorities,” he said “they must act ex officio and not wait for a formal complaint to the deceased’s next of kin.”
The United States’ government has not been vocal about the bombing investigations, nor active in pursuing justice for the victims. In 2001, a number of survivors and next of kin of a number of Lebanese and American victims did file a civil lawsuit against the Islamic Republic of Iran in the United States. The U.S. courts applied universal jurisdiction and ruled in favor of the victims, awarding some of them compensatory and punitive damages in two separate judgments in 2003 and 2011. However, in most of the cases, obtaining monetary reparation has proven to be difficult. This stems in part from the perceived political implications associated with attaching frozen assets of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the United States. Regardless of whether this reluctance is justified, by preventing the implementation of the courts’ rulings and by failing to provide alternative sources of compensation, including direct government compensation, the United States falls short of its obligations under the principle that “There is no wrong without a remedy” (ubi jus ibi remedium). This principle has roots in Roman law,6 has long been part of the common law system, and has been recognized under international standards,7 international jurisdiction, as well as the Inter-American system of Human Rights.8
It is incumbent upon the U.S. and Lebanese governments, and the international community, to conduct a thorough investigation of this bombing, to identify those individuals who may bear criminal responsibility under international law and to prosecute them accordingly, and, in any event, to ensure that victims’ rights are recognized and that they be provided with effective remedy.
Notes to the “Rights and obligations” section:
1. Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Ben Emmerson. Framework principles for securing the human rights of victims of terrorism, A/HRC/20/14 (June 4, 2012).
2. HRC. Comments on Tunisia, Doc. CCPR/C/79/Add.43, para. 14 (1994).
3. This information was reported by the Associated Press on March 26, 1996.
4. HRC. Comments on Tunisia, Doc. CCPR/C/79/Add.43, para. 14 (1994).
5. Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law, G.A. Res. 60/147, U.N. Doc. A/RES/60/147 (Dec. 16, 2005).
6. Dinah Shelton, Remedies in International Human Rights Law, 267 (2d ed., 2005).
7. HRC. Comments on Tunisia, Doc. CCPR/C/79/Add.43, para. 14 (1994).
8. See, e.g., I/A Court H.R., Case of Manuel Cepeda-Vargas v. Colombia. Preliminary Objections, Merits, Reparations and Costs. (Judgment of May 26, 2010).