In the first ruling of its kind, a federal judge here Wednesday ordered the government of Iran to pay $247.5 million in damages to the family of an American student killed in a 1995 suicide bombing in the Gaza Strip allegedly carried out by a terrorist organization bankrolled by Tehran.
U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth acted under the terms of a law enacted more than a year after the bombing that allows Americans victimized by terrorism to sue governments accused of supporting the terrorists.
“This court seeks to deter further terrorist acts against Americans who may be in Israel or elsewhere,” Lamberth said.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., who authored the legislation with Rep. Jim Saxton, R-N.J., said the decision sends a message that “terrorist acts against American citizens will cause some pain back in the country that sponsors that kind of terrorism.”
But it was far from clear how much pain the ruling will cause in Iran. The Tehran regime refused to acknowledge the suit and is unlikely to pay the judgment. Attorneys for the plaintiff said they will try to attach frozen Iranian assets in the United States or seize Iranian money abroad.
The suit was filed by the family of Alisa Flatow, 20, of West Orange, N.J., who was killed when a suicide bomber drove an explosives-loaded van into the side of an Israeli bus in the Palestinian Authority-governed Gaza Strip. Seven Israeli soldiers also died in the attack, which the Israeli government blamed on Islamic Jihad, an Iranian-backed Palestinian organization that is opposed to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Based on expert testimony offered by the plaintiffs, Lamberth determined that Islamic Jihad was responsible for the attack and that the Iranian government regularly finances terrorist groups, including that one. The conclusion echoes the State Department’s annual terrorism report, which has long accused Iran of providing political and financial support to Islamic Jihad and other terrorist organizations.
The Iranian government was not represented at the legal proceeding so it was not required to answer the charges. Iran has long denied supporting terrorism, although it boasts of its backing for groups that it calls “freedom fighters.”
The Lautenberg-Saxton act is another effort to extend the reach of U.S. law around the world. However, unlike the law imposing economic penalties on governments or corporations for doing business with Iran or Libya, for instance, the measure has produced relatively little protest from foreign governments, probably because they assume they can simply refuse to pay judgments awarded under it.