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Ashcroft announces bombing indictment

Ashcroft calls Thursday's indictment an "important milestone in an ongoing investigation"  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The following is a transcript from the news conference held by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft announcing that 14 people were indicted in connection with the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers military barracks in Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 U.S. airmen:

"Today a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, returned an indictment charging 14 individuals with murder, attempted murder of federal employees, conspiracy to commit murder and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction related to the June 25, 1996 terrorist bombing of the Khobar Towers dormitory complex in Saudi Arabia.

"As a result of this terrorist act, 19 United States airmen were killed and 372 American citizens were wounded. Named as defendants are the leader of the Saudi Hezbollah terrorist organization, as well as several prominent members, including the head of Saudi Hezbollah's military wing, along with members of terrorist cells in Saudi Arabia who planned and carried out the Khobar attack.


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"The indictment explains that the terrorist activities leading to the 1996 Khobar blast began as early as 1993, when members of Hezbollah began extensive surveillance to find American targets in Saudi Arabia.

"In 1995, according to the indictment, the terrorists focused on Khobar Towers, which housed U.S. Air Force personnel assigned to the Gulf region. After amassing large amounts of plastic explosives, the terrorists, assisted by and as yet, an unidentified member of Lebanese Hezbollah, referred to in the indictment as John Doe, these terrorists converted a tanker truck into a huge bomb. They denoted that bomb near the north face of the building number 131 at Khobar Towers shortly before 10 p.m. on June 25, 1996.

"The indictment explains that elements of the Iranian government inspired, supported and supervised members of Saudi Hezbollah. In particular, the indictment alleges that the charged defendants reported their surveillance activities to Iranian officials and were supported and directed in those activities by Iranian officials. This indictment does not name as defendants individual members of the Iranian government.

"Let me add, however, as always at this point, that every decision in this case has been made under the normal standards we apply to every criminal case. The only limitation on this case, as with any criminal case, is what we believe we can prove in a court of law. Federal district court rules prohibit commenting on the evidence available to us at the present time. But I can say that this investigation is continuing. And we will continue to bring additional charges as appropriate.

"Today's indictment is, however, an important milestone in this ongoing investigation. For five years, the Department of Justice and the FBI have worked to develop the evidence necessary to bring these charges for this terrible crime. This indictment comes at a time of both legal and personal significance in this case.

"As a legal matter, important charges arising out of the Khobar attack if not filed promptly might be lost under our statute of limitations on the fifth anniversary of the tragedy, which is next Monday. Of course, as a personal matter, for the victims and for their families, the indictment filed today means that next week's five-year anniversary of this tragedy will come with some assurance to victim family members and to the wounded that they are not and will not be forgotten.

"I know that all of America joins me in offering, again, our condolences for the terrible losses endured by the families of those injured in this tragedy. For America, it has also been an important reminder of the tremendous sacrifices made by those who bravely serve to protect our nation and its freedom.

"This indictment serves to underscore the commitment of the Bush administration and the Department of Justice to bring terrorists to account. Americans are a high priority target for terrorists and our nation will vigorously fight to preserve justice for our citizens, both here at home, as well as abroad.

"I would like to thank the Saudi government for its assistance throughout this investigation. Today's charges would not have been possible without their help, and we look forward to working with them as the investigation continues.

"I would also like to thank the prosecution team and the women and men of the FBI whose hard work on this investigation has been indispensable.

"Finally, I want to thank FBI Director Freeh. Since the horrific attack on Khobar Towers five years ago, the director has not wavered in his pursuit of this investigation.

"His personal involvement and tireless commitment are a substantial reason why we stand here today.

"He's also reached out to the victims and their families, he's met with them personally to listen to their concerns, to share information with them, to answer questions from them and to pledge his continuing support.

"This investigation exemplifies the leadership, the integrity and the compassion that Louis Freeh has delivered for America during the past eight years of his service as director of the FBI.

"Together with his colleagues, he has moved this institution forward into the 21st century, building law enforcement cooperation and investigative capacities that are respected across the nation and around the world.


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