ADL sues Iran, North Korea and Syria over Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is going to court seeking to hold Iran, North Korea and Syria responsible for its role in aiding Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

The suit comes on behalf of 100 Americans or their families seeking to hold the trio of countries responsible for “the deaths, physical and emotional injuries, and hostage-takings Hamas caused during its barbaric rampage.”

Such suits, the group notes, are often ignored by the countries targeted in the litigation

But the effort is a potential pathway to secure compensation for victims through the Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund, and it’s also a move by the ADL to create a “record of Hamas’ heinous brutality perpetrated with the support of these state sponsors of terrorism.”

“Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of antisemitism and terror — along with Syria and North Korea, they must be held responsible for their roles in the largest antisemitic attack since the Holocaust. We are doing everything possible to hold Hamas terrorists and those who support them accountable, including putting all of ADL’s weight behind this effort,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the group’s CEO, said in a release.

While foreign governments are generally considered beyond the jurisdiction of U.S. courts, the terrorism exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act allows for courts to review whether countries should face civil damages in cases where they’ve sponsored attacks. Iran, North Korea and Syria are all designated state sponsors of terrorism under U.S. law.

Though the foreign governments typically do not respond, judges continue to weigh whether the plaintiffs have met the legal burden associated with proving their connection with terrorist activities.

“The lawsuit lays out clear, convincing evidence that Iran and Syria and North Korea all provided material support to Hamas that enabled the terrorist group to commit the atrocities that they committed on Oct. 7, including material support, tactical support, financial support,” James Pasch, ADL’s litigation director, told The Hill.

It’s something he said is designed to also combat “Oct. 7 denialism [that] began on Oct. 8.”

Pasch said plaintiffs will argue Iran, North Korea and Syria provided material, financial and tactical support to Hamas. The complaint filed to the court lays out long histories between these state sponsors of terrorism and Hamas, but also more recent cooperation surrounding the Oct. 7 attack.

“There’s just no doubt that these terrorist-supporting nation-states provided material support to allow the attack to happen. And the legal standard is, did you provide the support that enabled the attack?” Pasch said.

It’s likely to be a low bar to clear, with Iran claiming Hamas as one of its proxy groups and part of its “axis of resistance.”

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in May hosted the head of Hamas’s political leadership in exile, Ismail Haniyeh, along with the heads of other proxy groups, for the funeral of the late Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. Haniyeh had earlier said Iran provided the group $70 million to help stock its missiles and weapons. The U.S. has estimated that Iran provides $100 million annually to Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups.

And while the U.S. reportedly doubts that Iran had specific knowledge of Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack, other reporting indicated that Iran hosted hundreds of Hamas fighters for military training prior to the attack.

And the U.S. had previously confirmed Iranian financial support for Hamas. In 2019, the U.S. sanctioned individuals facilitating the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars between the Iranian government and Hamas. In November, the Treasury Department sanctioned more than 20 individuals and entities for facilitating transactions between Iran’s military and government to Hamas.

Where North Korea is concerned, an investigation by The Associated Press published in October said Hamas likely fired weapons produced by North Korea during its Oct. 7 assault. Pyongyang previously denied that it was linked to the attack.

The complaint also seeks to establish that North Korea advised Hamas on its extensive tunnel network, which was employed during its Oct. 7 attack and is a major target for destruction amid Israel’s more than nine-month military campaign to eliminate Hamas in Gaza.

Further, the complaint seeks to lay out decades of close ties between Syria and Hamas, despite a rupture over the 10-year Syrian Civil War, when Hamas sided with the opposition. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad restored ties with Hamas in 2022, with the backing of Iran and its proxy group in Lebanon, Hezbollah.

The suit points to prior court decisions indicating Syria has provided financial support for Hamas, as well as facilitated the passage of Iranian supplies through their territory.

“We’re confident that we’ll be able to prove our case in court, and they’ll be held responsible for their actions,” Pasch said.

The suit comes at a time of uncertainty for the U.S. Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund, which currently does not have sufficient funding to make payments to victims who have won cases.

First established in 2015 with more than $3 billion, the fund as of December was down to $281 million, declining in January to authorize payments to victims.

Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) have introduced legislation that would replenish the funds in the account.

The complaint has redacted the names of the American plaintiffs. At least 32 Americans were known to have been killed among the 1,200 deaths recorded from Hamas’s attack on Oct. 7. Of the more than 250 people taken hostage, at least 10 were Americans, with eight people — alive and dead — still in Hamas captivity.

Plaintiff Nahar Neta, who agreed to make her case public, joined the lawsuit on behalf of her mother Adrienne, a retired nurse, who was killed on Kibbutz Be’eri on Oct. 7.

“While nothing will ever undo the unbearable pain Hamas caused our family or recover the brutal losses we’ve suffered, we hope this case will bring some sense of justice,” Neta said in a statement.

“It’s important for us to be able to tell our stories so the world can hear how Hamas has terrorized Israel, the Jewish people, and many American citizens. My mom devoted her life to caring for others regardless of race or religious beliefs. She was a peace and justice seeker who was active in many civilian efforts to bridge the gap between Jews and Arabs in Israel.”

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