Lawsuit Accuses Iran, Syria and North Korea of Providing Support for Hamas’ Oct. 7 Attack on Israel

AP Photo
Palestinians transport a captured Israeli civilian, Noa Argamani, on a motorcycle from southern Israel, in the Gaza Strip on Oct. 7, 2023.

NEW YORK (AP) — Victims of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel sued Iran, Syria and North Korea on Monday, saying their governments supplied the militants with money, weapons and know-how needed to carry out the assault that precipitated Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in New York, seeks at least $4 billion in damages for “a coordination of extrajudicial killings, hostage takings, and related horrors for which the defendants provided material support and resources.”

Iran’s mission to the United Nations declined to comment on the allegations, while Syria and North Korea did not respond.

The United States has deemed Iran, Syria and North Korea to be state sponsors of terrorism, and Washington has designated Hamas as what’s known as a specially designated global terrorist.

Because such countries rarely abide by court rulings against them in the United States, if the lawsuit’s plaintiffs are successful, they could seek compensation from a fund created by Congress that allows American victims of terrorism to receive payouts. The money comes from seized assets, fines or other penalties leveled against those that, for example, do business with a state sponsor of terrorism.

The lawsuit draws on previous court findings, reports from U.S. and other government agencies, and statements over some years by Hamas, Iranian and Syrian officials about their ties. The complaint also points to indications that Hamas fighters used North Korean weapons in the Oct. 7 attack.

But the suit doesn’t provide specific evidence that Tehran, Damascus or Pyongyang knew in advance about the assault. It accuses the three countries of providing weapons, technology and financial support necessary for the attack to occur.

Iran has denied knowing about the Oct. 7 attack ahead of time, though officials up to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have praised the assault.

Iran has armed Hamas as a counter to Israel, which the Islamic Republic has long viewed as its regional archenemy.

In the years since the collapse of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, Iran and Israel have been locked in a shadow war of attacks on land and at sea. Those attacks exploded into the open after an apparent Israeli attack targeting Iran’s embassy complex in Damascus, Syria, during the Israel-Hamas war, which sparked Tehran’s unprecedented drone-and-missile attack on Israel in April.

Neighboring Syria has relied on Iranian support to keep embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad in power amid a grinding civil war that began with the 2011 Arab Spring protests. Like Iran, Syria also offered public support for Hamas after the Oct. 7 attack.

North Korea denies that it arms Hamas. However, a militant video and weapons seized by Israel show Hamas fighters likely fired North Korean weapons during the Oct. 7 attack

South Korean officials, two experts on North Korean arms and an Associated Press analysis of weapons captured on the battlefield by Israel point toward Hamas using Pyongyang’s F-7 rocket-propelled grenade, a shoulder-fired weapon that fighters typically use against armored vehicles.

The lawsuit specifically cites the use of the F-7 grenade in the attack as a sign of Pyongyang’s involvement.

“Through this case, we will be able to prove what occurred, who the victims were, who the perpetrators were — and it will not just create a record in real time, but for all of history,” said one of the attorneys, James Pasch of the ADL, also called the Anti-Defamation League. The Jewish advocacy group frequently speaks out against antisemitism and extremism.

Hamas fighters killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted about 250 during the Oct. 7 attack. Israel invaded Gaza in response. The war has killed more than 37,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. It doesn’t say how many were civilians or fighters.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of over 125 plaintiffs, including the estates and relatives of people who were killed, plus people who were physically and/or emotionally injured. All are related to, or are themselves, U.S. citizens.

Under U.S. law, foreign governments can be held liable, in some circumstances, for deaths or injuries caused by acts of terrorism or by providing material support or resources for them.

The 1976 statute cited in the lawsuit, the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, is a frequent tool for American plaintiffs seeking to hold foreign governments accountable. In one example, a federal judge in Washington ordered North Korea in 2018 to pay $500 million in a wrongful death suit filed by the parents of Otto Warmbier, an American college student who died shortly after being released from that country.

People held as prisoners by Iran in the past have successfully sued Iran in U.S. federal court, seeking money earlier frozen by the U.S.

The new lawsuit joins a growing list of Israel-Hamas war-related cases in U.S. courts.

Last week, for example, Israelis who were taken hostage or lost loved ones during Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack sued the United Nations agency that aids Palestinians, claiming it has helped finance the militants by paying agency staffers in U.S. dollars and thereby funneling them to money-changers in Gaza who allegedly give a cut to Hamas.

The agency, known as UNRWA, has denied that it knowingly aids Hamas or any other militant group.