By Aman Ali
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Families of victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks filed documents in federal court this week suggesting Iran played a role in the attacks, even though a U.S. government inquiry concluded otherwise in 2004.
New papers filed in an existing lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan accuse Iran and Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group with Iranian ties, of helping al Qaeda plot the terror attacks.
"Iran and Hizballah did have prior knowledge of planning for the 9/11 attacks," said the documents, which accuse Iran of "direct support for, and sponsorship of, the most deadly act of terrorism in American history."
An attorney for the families, Thomas Mellon Jr., told Reuters on Friday that the new filing is based on information his firm gathered from former U.S. and Iranian intelligence officials.
The issue of Iran's involvement was previously examined by the 9/11 Commission, a formal inquiry launched by the U.S. government after the attacks. Its report, released in 2004 found "there is strong evidence" Iran helped some of the 9/11 hijackers travel in and out of Afghanistan prior to the attacks. It found "no evidence that Iran or Hezbollah was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attacks."
Mellon said the latest legal move is meant to connect the dots to show that Iran helped the hijackers move around because it was well aware of and supported their mission.
Mellon said some of the testimony his firm gathered revealed that Imad Mughniyah, a senior Hezbollah officer, met al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden as early as 1993, served as a liaison between Iran and al Qaeda in plotting the attacks, and traveled to Saudi Arabia to help al Qaeda coordinate the attacks.
Mughniyah, who was killed in 2008, had long been on the U.S. terror watch list for attacks including a 1983 bombing that killed more than 200 U.S. Marines stationed in Lebanon.
Ellen Saracini, whose United Airlines pilot husband was flying the plane that was hijacked and crashed into the World Trade Center, said the allegations about Iran's involvement in the attacks were not new. They were filed in court this week because it did not appear the U.S. government had fully investigated them.
"It's a little disturbing that our government hasn't taken more responsibility in finding who was involved with the attacks," she said.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune)