By Arab News
By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh*
A jury has concluded that federal prosecutors can confiscate a skyscraper in Manhattan to pay the families of victims of terrorism linked to Iran’s government. This includes the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia in 1996, and the bombing of a US Marine Corps barracks in Lebanon in 1983.
The confiscation is estimated to bring nearly $1 billion to the victims’ families. Sixty percent of the skyscraper is owned by the Alavi Foundation and 40 percent by Assa Corp., which is controlled by and operates on behalf of Iran’s Bank Melli, according to the US government.
After going through a “massive amount of evidence,” the judge said she was “firmly convinced” that the Alavi Foundation “takes directives from Iranian government officials, and its day-to-day operators have been appointed by Iranian officials to ensure conformity with the interests of the government of Iran.” The foundation has made donations to various institutions in the US, including Iranian programs and universities such as Columbia.
Joon H. Kim, the acting US attorney in Manhattan, said the jury’s finding “represents the largest civil forfeiture jury verdict and the largest terrorism-related civil forfeiture in US history.” Iran was previously found to have played a significant role in 9/11. Released documents from a US federal court revealed that Iran and its proxy, the Shiite radical group Hezbollah, had a “firsthand” role in perpetrating 9/11.
US District Judge George Daniels in New York ordered Iran to pay more than $10.5 billion in damages to the estates and families of people who died at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
According to the US District Court in the Southern District of New York: “In the Havlish (previous) proceeding, this Court held that ‘Iran furnished material and direct support for the 9/11 terrorists’ specific terrorist travel operation’ and (that) facilitation of Al-Qaeda’s operatives’ travel to training in camps in Afghanistan was ‘essential for the success of the 9/11 operation… The second way in which Iran furnished material and direct support for the 9/11 attacks was that a terrorist agent of Iran and Hezbollah helped coordinate travel by future Saudi hijackers.”
The finding that Iran and Al-Qaeda are interconnected is significant because it cracks the binary and superficial theory that Shiite Iran only aligns itself with radical Shiite groups, not Sunni ones.
Through it partnership with Assa Corp., the Alavi Foundation was helping Tehran via various means, the jury found, such as money-laundering. Financial donations to various programs in the US were more likely aimed at spreading Tehran’s narrative, preserving its interests and empowering its agents in the US to lobby and advocate for it.
As Kim said: “In this trial, 650 Fifth Avenue’s (the skyscraper’s) secret was laid bare for all to see.” He added: “The owners of 650 Fifth Avenue gave the Iranian government a critical foothold in the very heart of Manhattan through which Iran successfully circumvented US economic sanctions.” Iran should be forced to pay victims’ families, and every government must detect and closely monitor domestic organizations and individuals operating on behalf of Tehran.
The US State Department’s latest report found that Iran is a top state sponsor of terrorism. Tehran is engaged in financial, political and military support for militias and designated terrorist groups across the Middle East and in the West, with the aim of exporting its extremist ideals, expanding its influence and achieving its hegemonic ambitions.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated, Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business. He can be reached on Twitter @Dr_Rafizadeh.