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Source: No Air Force punishment expected in Khobar bombing

bombing debris

Iran denies any role in attack

December 11, 1996
Web posted at: 9:50 p.m. EST (0250 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A soon-to-be-released Air Force review of the Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, terrorist bombing concludes that no Air Force personnel should be punished for failure to do their jobs, CNN learned Wednesday.

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. The Air Force review will be released Friday.

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

An earlier Pentagon review of the incident, headed by a retired Army general, found just the opposite: that the commander at Dhahran failed to protect his forces adequately from terrorist attacks, and that military staff ignored reports of an impending attack.

Signs only obvious in hindsight

Schwalier

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 missing warning signs 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 also said the commanders acted appropriately given the confusing intelligence they received, and the unprecedented size of the bomb. According to a Pentagon official, intelligence suggested they should be prepared for a bomb of up to 250 pounds rather than the fuel truck bomb that was detonated at the fence of the housing complex. That explosion was equal to thousands of pounds of TNT.

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 an Air Force chief, 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.

Iranian involvement suspected in bombing

CNN also learned Wednesday that Saudi investigators have given the United States evidence of alleged Iranian involvement in the Khobar Towers bombing. U.S. officials are still studying the Saudi data and are not expected to draw conclusions on who was behind the incident for several weeks.

Iran's U.N. mission expressed outrage Wednesday over media reports implying Iranian involvement. It said the reports were "invariably based on conjectures and cynical speculations" and were devoid of any specific attribution or evidence.

U.S. officials refused to comment publicly. But sources familiar with the investigation told CNN the Saudis believe they have substantial evidence that points to Iran.

The sources said Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef gave the alleged evidence to FBI Director Louis Freeh last month when Freeh visited the Saudi capital of Riyadh. Saudi officials cited the data as proof that the bombing was carried out by Saudi extremists of the Shiite sect of Islam who were allegedly trained in Lebanon and supported by Iran, the sources said.

The alleged evidence includes statements by some of the 40 Saudi Shiites questioned as suspects by Saudi police and evidence 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 the part of their trip that went from Damascus to Tehran and back to Damascus, then left the passports in Syria to try to hide their Iranian connection.

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.

The vast majority of U.S. military personnel stationed in Saudi Arabia have been relocated to a remote desert air base outside of Riyadh for security reasons.

Correspondents Jamie McIntyre and Anthony Collings contributed to this report.  
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