The Iranian government is partly to blame for a 1996 terrorist attack that killed 19 Americans in Saudi Arabia, a federal judge ruled Friday.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth allows the families of the victims of the Khobar Towers bombing to seek $254 million in compensation from the conservative Islamic regime in Tehran.

Though intelligence officials have suspected a link between the Tehran government and the Saudi wing of Hezbollah, which the FBI has accused of carrying out the bombing, Friday's ruling is the first time a branch of the U.S. government has officially blamed Iran for the deaths of Americans in the bombings.

"This court takes note of plaintiffs' courage and steadfastness in pursuing this litigation and their efforts to take action to deter more tragic suffering of innocent Americans at the hands of terrorists," Lamberth wrote. "Their efforts are to be commended."

Lamberth relied heavily on testimony by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, who investigated the bombings.

Two Iranian government security agencies and senior members of the Iranian government itself provided funding, training and logistical help to terrorists who carried out the attack on a dormitory that housed U.S. Air Force pilots and staff in Saudi Arabia, Freeh testified.