Washington The U.S. government announced murder and conspiracy charges Thursday against 13 Saudis and an unidentified Lebanese man for the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing, which killed 19 American servicemen in an alleged attempt by Iranian-backed terrorists to drive U.S. forces out of the Middle East.
The 46-count indictment, handed up by a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Va., says that leaders of the Saudi Hezbollah terrorist group planned the bombing for three years. About 500 people, including 372 Americans, were wounded when a tanker truck exploded on June 25, 1996, shattering the military barracks in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.
Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft hailed the indictments as "an important milestone" toward justice in a case that has long frustrated U.S. authorities and served as a symbol of U.S. vulnerability to terrorism.
The investigation was championed by top officials but also was constrained by diplomatic sensitivities, as the United States sought to improve relations with Iran and to preserve ties with Saudi Arabia.
Ashcroft said the indictment includes only "what we believe we can prove in a court of law."
The indictment was filed just days before a five-year statute of limitations would have ruled out some of the conspiracy and attempted murder charges.
For the moment, it is largely symbolic, since the United States does not have custody of any of the defendants and even deported one of them to Saudi Arabia two years ago.