Ben-Rafael v. Islamic Republic of Iran, Civil Action No. 06-00721 (ESH).

CourtUnited States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
Citation540 F.Supp.2d 39
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 06-00721 (ESH).
PartiesElisa Nili Cirilo Peres BEN-RAFAEL, et al., Plaintiffs, v. ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date25 February 2008

Emil Hirsch, O'Connor & Hannan, LLP, Philip S. Friedman, Friedman Law, Washington, DC, for Plaintiffs.



On March 17, 1992,1 a suicide bomber drove a truck filled with explosives into the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, killing twenty-nine people and wounding over two hundred. Hezbollah2 publicly accepted responsibility for the bombing. This action has been brought by the estate of one of the bombing's victims, David Ben-Rafael, and his immediate family members. Plaintiffs contend that Hezbollah's attack depended on material support from defendants the Islamic Republic of Iran ("Iran") and the Ministry of Information and Security of Iran ("MOIS"). Plaintiffs allege that this material support constituted a waiver of defendants' sovereign immunity under the "state sponsor of terrorism" exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act of 1976 (the "FSIA"), 28 U.S.C. § 1605(a)(7). Plaintiffs further argue that defendants, having been stripped of immunity, are vicariously liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress and wrongful death.

Plaintiffs initiated this action on April 21, 2006, and effected service on April 22, 2007, in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 1608(a)(4). Defendants failed to respond, and the Clerk of Court entered a default judgment on July 6, 2007. The Court is nevertheless obliged to inquire further to determine if plaintiffs have established their claims "by evidence satisfactory to the court." 28 U.S.C. § 1608(e). In evaluating plaintiffs' claims, the Court "may accept [their] uncontroverted evidence as true and may rely on sworn affidavits." Oveissi v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 498 F.Supp.2d 268, 272 (D.D.C.2007) (internal citations omitted). The Court is not required to hold an evidentiary hearing. See, e.g., Bodoff v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 424 F.Supp.2d 74, 78 (D.D.C.2006) (entering a default judgment based upon plaintiffs' submissions without an evidentiary hearing). And, it "may take judicial notice of related proceedings and records in cases before the same court." Oveissi, 498 F.Supp.2d at 272 (internal citations omitted). Having considered the extensive record herein, as well as the findings of others in this district in related cases involving these same defendants, this Court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.

I. Historical Background

The 1979 revolution brought a theocratic ideology to Iran, and a chief goal of the new government was to establish itself as the "global leader of radical Islam." (Clawson Aff. ¶ 16.)3 One of the ways that Iran has pursued this goal is by opposing Israel, "whose very existence Iranian leaders found abhorrent as an insult to Islam." (Id.) In this vein, Iran reached out to like-minded members of Lebanon's Shiite community, who have long-standing historical and cultural ties to Iran, and encouraged them to form what became known as Hezbollah. (Id. ¶¶ 17, 19.) Iran played a "pre-eminent role in the creation of Hezbollah" by providing "political, material, and financial assistance," including the funding of Hezbollah since the mid-1980's, in annual amounts ranging from $25 million to $100 million.4 (Id. ¶ 19.)

Iran exercised control over Hezbollah through its intelligence agency — MOIS. (Id. ¶¶ 28-29.) MOIS has 30,000 employees, making it the largest intelligence agency in the Middle East. (Id. ¶ 24.) MOIS has served as a conduit between Iran and Hezbollah since the 1980's by providing funds, technical expertise, and instructions from Iran to Hezbollah. (Id. ¶¶ 28-29.) In return, Hezbollah conducted terrorist acts around the world on Iran's behalf. (Id.)

The symbiotic relationship between Iran and Hezbollah has been thoroughly documented by several judges in this district. For instance, in Dammarell v. Islamic Republic of Iran ("Dammarell I"), 281 F.Supp.2d 105 (D.D.C.2003), Judge Bates examined claims against these same defendants stemming from the April 18, 1983 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut, Lebanon. Also relying on testimony by Dr. Clawson, the Court found that Iran provided Hezbollah with "military arms, training, and other supplies." Id. at 110. The Court noted that "[Hezbollah] accomplished its terrorist acts not just with the support of the Iranian government generally, but with the specific assistance of MOIS." Id. In particular, Hezbollah was dependent upon Iran for financial support and political guidance at the time of this bombing. See id. at 111. In fact, "Iran was quite directly ordering what targets to do, what not to do." Id. The Court therefore ruled that the evidence "leaves no doubt that Iran and MOIS are responsible for the bombing." Id. at 192.

Just a few months after the 1983 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut, Hezbollah also attacked a military installation in Beirut, killing 241 American serviceman. In Peterson I, Judge Lamberth found that during the period of the attack, Hezbollah was "essentially a tool of Iran." Id. at 51. Hezbollah had no other major means of support. See id. According to a Defense Department consultant; who testified in March 2003, Iran "invented, created, funded, trained, and runs to this day Hezbollah, which is arguably the world's most dangerous terrorist organization." Id. n. 8 (emphasis added) Concluding that defendants were responsible for the attack, the Court found:

[I]t is beyond question that Hezbollah and its agents received massive material and technical support from the Iranian government.... [I]t is highly unlikely that this attack could have resulted in such loss of life without the assistance of regular military forces, such as those of Iran.

Id. at 58.

Less than four months after the attack on the military barracks, a group called "Islamic Jihad" claimed responsibility for an assassination in Paris. See Oveissi, 498 F.Supp.2d at 274. An expert testified that Hezbollah uses the alias "Islamic Jihad" when committing terrorist acts outside the Middle East. See id. at 273; see also Dammarell v. Islamic Republic of Iran ("Dammarell III"), 404 F.Supp.2d 261, 271-72 (D.D.C.2005) ("The terrorist group Islamic Jihad has been known by various names ... [but] perhaps most commonly [as] Hizbollah.") Again, Judge Lamberth concluded that the Paris assassins were "controlled by defendant Iran through defendant MOIS." Oveissi, 498 F.Supp.2d. at 274.

While these attacks occurred in the 1980's, defendants have also been found to be responsible for Hezbollah's more recent terrorist acts. For example, on June 25, 1996, defendants orchestrated the bombing of a residential complex in Saudi Arabia, killing nineteen U.S. Air Force personnel. See Heiser, 466 F.Supp.2d at 252. After a "massive" investigation involving over 250 agents, the FBI determined that "senior officials in the Iranian government provided [Hezbollah] with funding, planning, training, sponsorship, and travel necessary to carry out the attack." Id. at 252-53.

Defendants' sponsorship of Hezbollah has also been found to extend to at least 2002. In Sisso v. Islamic Republic of Iran ("Sisso II"), No. 05-CV-0394, 2007 WL 2007582, at **1-4 (D.D.C. July 5, 2007), Judge Bates examined defendants' role in a September 2002 bus bombing in Tel Aviv. While defendants employed Hamas in this bombing rather than Hezbollah, the Court made findings regarding the latter. It determined that, "[b]eginning in 1993, Iran has funded training camps operated in Lebanon by Hizbollah, a terrorist organization controlled and funded by Iran." Id. at *5. The Court also found that during 2002, "Iran provided Lebanese Hizballah with funding, safehaven, training, and weapons. Tehran also encouraged Hizballah and the Palestinian rejectionist groups to coordinate their planning and to escalate their terrorist activities against Israel." Id. at *6.

II. The 1992 Bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina

On March 17, 1992, a suicide bomber drove a pickup truck loaded with explosives into the front of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Clawson Aff. ¶ 32.) The embassy was under repair at the time. (Id.) The ensuing explosion destroyed the embassy and several nearby buildings, including a church and a school. (Id.) The bomb killed 29 people and injured 242; many of the victims were children. (Id.)

Islamic Jihad publicly claimed responsibility for the bombing. (Clawson Aff. ¶ 33.) As stated above, Hezbollah sometimes uses the alias "Islamic Jihad" when conducting terrorist activities outside the Middle East. See U.S. DEPT. OF STATE, PATTERNS OF GLOBAL TERRORISM 1 (1992) (hereinafter "PATTERNS OF GLOBAL TERRORISM") (noting that Islamic Jihad is a "covername for Hizballah"); see also Oveissi, 498 F.Supp.2d at 273 n. 3.

The initial investigation into the embassy attack was hampered by controversy. There are indications that corruption or anti-Semitism may explain why the initial investigation stalled.5 It also appears that this attack was soon to be overshadowed by the 1994 bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina ("AMIA"), a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. Eighty-five people were killed in this attack. (Clawson Aff. ¶ 36.) The community center was undergoing repairs at the time of the bombing, just as the embassy had been two years earlier.6 Unfortunately, the AMIA investigation also stalled because of accusations of corruption.7

However, President Nestor Kirchner reopened the AMIA investigation in 2003, bringing in investigators who were untainted by the previous charges of corruption. (Id. ¶ 37.) The new investigative team developed a highly detailed report, consisting of thousands of...

To continue reading

Request your trial
81 cases
  • Estate of Hirshfeld v. Islamic Republic of Iran, Civil Action No. 15-1082 (CKK)
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • August 30, 2018
    ...this material support, "[t]he FSIA's causation requirement is satisfied by a showing of proximate cause." Ben-Rafael v. Islamic Republic of Iran , 540 F.Supp.2d 39, 54 (D.D.C. 2008) (citing Kilburn v. Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya , 376 F.3d 1123, 1128-29 (D.C. Cir. 2004) ). In ......
  • Wultz v. Islamic Republic of Iran
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • October 20, 2010
    ...715 F.Supp.2d 27, 31–32 (D.D.C.2010); Gates v. Syrian Arab Republic, 580 F.Supp.2d 53, 67 (D.D.C.2008); Ben–Rafael v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 540 F.Supp.2d 39, 46 (D.D.C.2008). Below, the Court discusses the overarching knowledge requirement imposed by § 2333. See discussion infra Part II......
  • Peterson v. Islamic Republic Of Iran
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • December 3, 2010
    ...Iran is not a party to any "international convention on service of judicial documents," § 1608(a)(2). See Ben-Rafael v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 540 F.Supp.2d 39, 52 (D.D.C.2008). 5 Even if the federal service rules applied, the plaintiffs would not have been required to serve Iran with th......
  • Owens v. Republic Sudan
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • July 28, 2017
    ...v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 172 F.Supp.2d 128, 133 (D.D.C. 2001) (U.S. embassy annex in East Beirut); Ben-Rafael v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 540 F.Supp.2d 39, 53 (D.D.C. 2008) (Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires); Blais v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 459 F.Supp.2d 40, 53 (D.D.C. 2006) (Khobar ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT