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Senate votes to let victims of foreign terrorism collect damages

New York Times
October 12, 2000

WASHINGTON - The Senate enacted legislation Wednesday that would allow victims of terrorism to collect court-awarded damages from countries that sponsor terrorist activity. The bill, passed overwhelmingly by the House last week, now goes to the president, who is expected to sign it into law.

In a bipartisan effort, the Senate passed the measure 95-0.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., a co-sponsor of the bill, said it would "strengthen our stand against terrorism" by acting as a deterrent to attacks aimed at American citizens abroad.

For a suit to succeed in American courts, the State Department must list the country as a sponsor of terrorism. Iran, for example, has been on the list since 1984.

Congress passed a measure in October 1998 that called for the State Department and the Treasury Department to help victims of terrorism locate money for judgments. But the legislation contained a waiver that permitted the president to decline support in the interest of national security. The new measure does not give the president that option.

Administration officials have voiced concern that the sanctity of American diplomatic property abroad, a right extended to all diplomatic missions under international law, might be compromised if private citizens here were allowed to seize foreign government property.

In March, a federal judge ordered Iran to pay $341 million in damages to Terry Anderson, a former correspondent for The Associated Press who was held hostage in Lebanon in the 1980s, and his family. A suit filed by Anderson said his kidnappers were members of Hezbollah, a terrorist group financed and trained by Iran.

In March 1998, a federal judge ordered Iran to pay $247.5 million to the family of Alisa M. Flatow of West Orange, N.J., who was studying at a seminary in Jerusalem in 1995 when she was killed in a suicide bus attack for which Islamic Holy War, with ties to Iran, claimed responsibility. And in August 1998, a federal court ordered Iran to pay $65 million in damages for its role in the kidnapping of Joseph J. Cicippio, Frank H. Reed and David P. Jacobsen, three Americans held with Anderson.

Thus far, they have been unable to collect on the settlements.

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