Grieving Family Points Finger at Syria & Iran

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The family of a U.S. government contractor kidnapped, tortured and killed by Houthi rebels in Yemen sued Syria and Iran, calling them state sponsors of terrorism for providing support to the rebels.
     The Iranian and Syrian-backed Houthis extrajudicially killed John A. Hamen III just 18 days after kidnapping him, and held his colleague Mark McAlister in dire conditions for more than six months before releasing him to U.S. custody, according to the Hamen family’s complaint.
     McAlister and his family have joined the lawsuit, which was filed Friday in Washington, D.C., Federal Court.
     McAlister “was repeatedly interrogated, threatened, intimidated and psychologically and physically abused, deprived, and manipulated,” the complaint states.
     “These are two guys who were going over there to secure a United Nations facility. They showed up on a United Nations plane, they were expecting to be picked up by someone from the compound they were going to secure,” Kevin Hoffman with the Singer Legal Group said in an interview.
     Neither of them had any intention of carrying out any act of aggression against the Houthis, Hoffman said.
     The July 1 complaint recounts the ordeal of Hamen and McAlister against the backdrop of the complicated, sectarian conflict raging in Yemen that also serves as a proxy war between Iranian and Shiite power in the region and the U.S. and its allies – Israel and Saudi Arabia.
     When the Arab Spring swept the region, Ali Abdullah Saleh’s three-decades of rule as Yemen’s president ended abruptly amidst an uprising by the country’s opposition.
     His replacement, Abdu Rabbu Mansur Hadi, was backed by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. But the Houthi rebels were able to bring down Hadi’s government by January 2015 with the help of Yemeni soldiers loyal to Saleh.
     Soon after, Hadi recruited Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Gulf states to launch deadly air strikes to fight the Houthi rebels. Iran and Syria have been intricately involved in supporting the rebels, the complaint alleges.
     “In accordance with its explicit foreign policy goals, Iran regularly supports, enables, and assists other foreign states, organizations, terrorist groups, and rebel forces in destabilizing governments that are friendly to the United States, Israel, and/or Saudi Arabia,” the complaint states.
     Iran provided direct resources – including arms and training – to the Houthis to help them bring down Hadi’s internationally recognized government, according to the lawsuit.
     “Iran has regularly brought groups of one hundred Houthi soldiers into military camps in southern Syria to gain combat and weapon experience. This program has trained as many as three thousand Houthis with the goal of making them more effective fighters in the war against the Hadi government,” the complaint states.
     Syria, with similarly stated foreign policy goals to Iran, also provided training and military intelligence to Houthi rebels, the Hamen and McAlister families claim.
     “Defendants’ provision of material military and economic support to the Houthis is intentional, wanton, and willful, with the understanding that violence against Americans such as John Hamen is an expected and welcomed result of such support,” their lawsuit states.
     According to the 23-page complaint, the Houthis kidnapped Hamen and McAlister to compel Saudi Arabia to stop bombing Yemen, or possibly to use them as bargaining chips to free some of their own captured men.
     The rebels seized Hamen and McAlister on Oct. 20, 2015, when the two landed in Sana’a Yemen on a United Nations flight to work for Advanced C4 Solutions, a private military contractor running a U.S. State Department security contract for a diplomatic facility.
     Advanced C4 Solutions reportedly continued work on the contract even after the State Department suspended embassy operations and evacuated its diplomatic staff as conditions in the war-torn country deteriorated.
     “Mark McAlister was detained by the Houthis under inhumane conditions, incommunicado, without access to a consular officer, or a lawyer, and without the right to challenge the lawfulness of his detention,” according to the lawsuit.
     The rebels allegedly forced McAlister to wear the same set of clothes during his confinement and deprived him of toilet paper. He only saw the sun three times in six months, and emerged on April 29, 2016, emaciated with his ribs and spine clearly visible, the complaint states.
     Much less is known about what happened to Hamen. The Houthis took his dead body to a local hospital on Nov. 6, 2015, and the State Department told his wife that Houthi rebels found him dead in his room, according to the complaint.
     An autopsy conducted at Dover Air Force Base reportedly ruled his death a homicide from suffocation.
     The lawsuit says the rebels killed Hamen by means of asphyxiation.
     Hoffman was not able to offer any new details or insights into the circumstances surrounding Hamen’s death.
     “He’s got a wife and seven kids left behind,” Hoffman said. “We’re doing our best to help them in any way we can.”
     Hoffman said Hamen’s family is coping about as well as anyone would expect.
     “Mrs. Hamen is extremely strong,” he said. And despite the challenges of reintegrating back to normal life, Hoffman said McAlister is “doing great,” and has a lot of support from his family and church.
     Hoffman says he expects Iran and Syria to refuse service, but hopes the legal team can get a default judgment before the end of the year so the families can be partially compensated through the United States Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund.
     The legal team for the Hamen and McAlister families has also submitted a formal request for compensation to the United Nations, but they have not received a response yet, Hoffman said.

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