Thuneibat v. Syrian Arab Republic

Decision Date01 March 2016
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 12-cv-00020 (BAH)
Citation167 F.Supp.3d 22
Parties Nadira Thuneibat, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Syrian Arab Republic, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

Richard D. Heideman, Heideman Nudelman & Kalik, P.C., Washington, DC, for Plaintiffs.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

BERYL A. HOWELL, United States District Judge

The families and estates of two American citizens, Lina Mansoor Thuneibat and Mousab Ahmad Khorma (the “Victims”), initiated this action, under the Torture Victim Protection Act (“TVPA”), 28 U.S.C. § 1350, and the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), 28 U.S.C. § 1602, et seq. , against two defendants, the Syrian Arab Republic and the Syrian Military Intelligence, for sponsoring the November 9, 2005, terrorist attacks in Amman, Jordan. Compl. (Preamble), ¶¶ 1–21, ECF No. 1. These attacks, coordinated by Al-Qaida in Iraq (“AQI”), resulted in the deaths of approximately sixty civilians, including Lina Thuneibat and Mousab Khorma, and the maiming of over one hundred others. Id. ¶¶ 13–14, 28–35. The defendants never entered appearances in, or defended against, this action, and the plaintiffs now seek default judgment for the damages caused by the extrajudicial killings perpetrated by AQI with material support from the defendants. For the reasons discussed below, default judgment is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Summarized below is the factual background leading up to, and resulting from, the terrorist attacks at issue and the procedural history of this case. The background is based upon allegations in the Complaint as well as the detailed declaration of an expert in “Arab politics and counterterrorism,” who relies extensively on United States government officials' reports and statements. Pls.' Mot. Default Judgment (“Pls.' Mot.”), Ex. A (Decl. of David Schenker, dated March 19, 2015 (“Schenker Expert Decl.”)) at 2, ECF No. 26-2.

A. SYRIAN SUPPORT OF TERRORISM THREATS IN THE KINGDOM OF JORDAN

In 1994, the Kingdom of Jordan (“Jordan”) entered into an “historic peace treaty with Israel brokered by U.S. President Bill Clinton.” Compl. ¶ 26. Since then, Jordan has become a key ally of the United States in the counterterrorism effort, by “sharing intelligence information with the United States on militant groups” in the Middle East, “prosecut[ing] suspects with ties to al-Qaeda,” id. , “provid[ing] crucial logistical support to United States forces in Iraq,” id. ¶ 27, and “allow[ing] Amman to be used as a staging base for transit into and out of Iraq,” id .

In response to Jordan's relationship with the United States and Israel, AQI, an organization designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (“FTO”) by the U.S. Department of State, and its leader, Jordanian national Ahmad Fadil Nazzal Al Khalayleh, also known as Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi (“Zarqawi”), targeted Jordan for terror attacks. Id. (Preamble), ¶ 29. Zarqawi and AQI's efforts have been supported by Syria, which has been included on the U.S. Department of State's list of State Sponsors of Terrorism since 1979 and is known to ‘support groups' that ‘have carried out scores of attacks against Palestinian and other Arab, Turkish, Israeli, and Western targets ....’ Id. ¶ 49 (quoting a U.S. Department of State Bulletin published in 1987) (ellipsis in the original).

For example, in 1999, Zarqawi allegedly participated in a plot to bomb Jordanian tourist sites, including one of the three hotels targeted in the November 9, 2005 attacks at issue in this case. Id. ¶ 29. In 2002, from his base in Syria, Zarqawi and AQI planned and facilitated the assassination in Amman, Jordan, of U.S. Agency for International Development (“USAID”) official Lawrence Foley. Id. ; Schenker Expert Decl. at 7. The terrorists allegedly trained in Syrian military barracks “under the supervision of Syrian soldiers, who instructed them in the use of submachine guns, rifles, pistols and the construction of bombs,” and the weapons used to assassinate Foley were allegedly provided by Syria. Compl. ¶ 54. Zarqawi, along with two other known associates, were convicted in Jordan and sentenced to death, in absentia , for Foley's assassination. Id. ¶ 29; Schenker Expert Decl. at 7.

In 2003, after the United States led a multinational invasion of Iraq, Syria explicitly articulated a policy of defeating the U.S.-led armed forces in Iraq. Schenker Expert Decl. at 4 (quoting former Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq Shara). Zarqawi and an Aleppo-based militant Islamist cleric employed by the Syrian government ‘co-established ... the Al-Qaeda branch in Iraq after the US invasion.’ Id. (quoting Sami Moubayed, the Islamic Revival in Syria , MIDDLE EAST MONITOR , Sept.-Oct. 2006). Syria became a crucial base for AQI, and “several of Zarqawi's key deputies and supporters based their operations out of the state.” Id. at 5. The same year, in 2003, Zarqawi and AQI allegedly “attacked the Jordanian embassy in Iraq, killing fourteen and wounding forty.” Compl. ¶ 29. In a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2003, then Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz testified that several foreign fighters killed by U.S. forces in Iraq went there through Syria, and the entry permits on their passports said ‘volunteer for jihad,’ or ‘to join the Arab volunteers,’ indicating that Syria was well aware of the jihadi nature of these transient volunteer soldiers as they passed through Syrian borders. Shenker Expert Decl. at 5 (quoting former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz). Indeed, Zarqawi was aided in fundraising and operational planning by Fawzi Mutlaz al Rawi, who was also appointed by the Syrian President Bashar Assad in 2003 to be the leader of the Iraqi wing of the ruling Syrian Ba'ath party. Id. at 6. Rawi is financially supported by the Syrian Government and has ‘close ties to Syrian Intelligence.’ Id. (quoting U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TREASURY, TREASURY DESIGNATES INDIVIDUALS WITH TIES TO AL QAIDA, FORMER REGIME (Dec. 7 2007)).

In 2004, Zarqawi and AQI planned an attack on “several Jordanian and American targets” in Amman, including the U.S. embassy, involving detonation of “a truck bomb laden with chemicals that ... would create a chemical plume” with the capability of “kill[ing] over 100,000” people. Schenker Expert Decl. at 7; Compl. ¶ 29. Jordanian forces thwarted the attack for which Zarqawi later took responsibility, claiming that it was in “retribution for Jordan housing a ‘big database used by the enemy of Islam to track down holy warriors.’ Schenker Expert Decl. at 7 (quoting Maggie Michael, Al Qaeda Operative: Jordan Attack Planned , AP, Apr. 30, 2004); Compl. ¶ 30. According to the confession of a captured terrorist, Zarqawi “provided the funding necessary for the operation” through a Syrian resident, named Suleiman Khaled Darwish a/k/a Abu al Ghadiyyeh, who was designated by the United States Treasury Department in 2005 as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (“SDGT”). Schenker Expert Decl. at 5–8. Ghadiyyeh regularly arranged for jihadis affiliated with AQI and Zarqawi to travel through Syria into Iraq. Id. at 8. Yet, even after the United States made numerous requests to Syria to ‘hand over, capture, or kill’ Ghadiyyeh, Syria continued to “provid[e] safehaven for Ghadiyyeh as a matter of policy.” Id. (quoting Pamela Hess, Syria Raid May Point to a New US Poster , AP, October 28, 2008). In 2008, the United States Special Operations forces killed Ghadiyyeh in a Syrian village, six miles from the Iraqi border. Id.

The State Department's 2005 Patterns of Global Terrorism publication concluded that Syria remained a ‘facilitation hub for terrorists operating in Iraq ....’ Compl. ¶ 58. In 2007, then-General David Petraeus echoed that Syria acts as “critical support for the AQI insurgency in Iraq,” and plays a “pivotal role as the source of foreign fighters entering Iraq.” Schenker Expert Decl. at 6.

B. THE ATTACKS IN AMMAN, JORDAN ON NOVEMBER 9, 2005

On November 4, 2005, Zarqawi sent four AQI suicide bombers into Amman, Jordan. Compl. ¶ 31. Five days later, on November 9, 2005, these four suicide bombers, wearing “bomb belts packed with the powerful explosive RDX and ball bearings, designed to inflict the maximum number of casualties,” entered the lobbies of the Radisson SAS, the Grand Hyatt and the Days Inn. Id. ¶ 32; Schenker Expert Decl. at 8. According to a coordinated plan, the suicide bombers detonated their bombs within minutes of one another, killing a total of fifty-seven civilians, including the Victims, and wounding 110 others. Schenker Expert Decl. at 8.

Shortly after the attacks, AQI and Zarqawi “issued several claims of responsibility.” Schenker Expert Decl. at 10–11. On November 10, 2005, AQI posted two statements in Arabic on a jihadi website, acknowledging that “the Army of al-Qaeda” carried out the attacks. Id. at 10. The statements explained that these hotels were targeted because they were ‘headquarters, safe haven, residence and meeting place of the evil state of Jordan, the sons of Alqami [Shiites], and their guests,’ ‘the filthy tourists of the Jews and Westerners.’ Id. at 10–11 (quoting Appendix B (First AQI Online Statement, dated November 10, 2005) at 21, ECF No. 26-2 and Appendix C (Second AQI Online Statement, dated November 10, 2005) at 23, ECF No. 26-2) (alteration in the original). On November 18, 2005, Zarqawi posted a twenty-seven minute long video, explaining that Al Qaida took this blessed step’ because, inter alia , [the Jordanian] army has become a devoted guardian of the Zionist state,’ ‘the obscenity and corruption spread [by the Jordanian government] have turned Jordan into a quagmire of utter profanity and debauchery, and anyone who has seen the hotels, the houses of entertainment, the dance parties, the wine bars, and the tourist resorts ... is wrenched with sorrow,’ and that [a]s for the situation in Iraq, Jordan has served and is still serving as a rear supply...

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