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U.S. House Passes Terrorist Legislation

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - The House on Tuesday approved a measure making it easier for terrorist victims to collect damages from nations that foster that terrorism.

American courts have awarded former hostages and families of terrorist victims multimillion-dollar judgments against Iran and Cuba, but the administration has so far blocked the freeing of frozen assets to those winning the suits.

The House legislation, passed by voice, strengthens a 1996 law allowing a victim to sue a terrorist state by restricting the president's authority to issue waivers preventing the release of assets.

Diplomatic property would still be protected from claims, but the commercial property, cash accounts and assets such as rental money of a country could be used to satisfy court judgments in terrorism cases.

``Today we have moved one step closer to giving these victims and their families the justice they deserve,'' said Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla., sponsor of the House bill. Identical legislation sponsored by Sens. Connie Mack, R-Fla., and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., has yet to reach the Senate floor.

This year a federal court awarded $327 million in damages to the parents of a Connecticut rabbinical student and a 22-year-old New Jersey woman who were killed in a bus bombing in Jerusalem linked to Iran.

Former hostage Terry Anderson, who spent seven years in captivity in Lebanon, also won a $341 million judgment against Iran this year. A federal judge in Miami has ordered Cuba to pay $187 million to the families of three Americans killed in 1996 when Cuban military jets shot down two small private planes off the island's coast. None of those plaintiffs has been able to collect on the claims.

The administration has voiced its opposition to the measure, saying countries might retaliate by seizing American property.

Separately, the House passed by voice a bill that would set up a presidential council on terrorism preparedness to coordinate federal programs that help state and local governments take anti-terrorism measures.

The council would be responsible for establishing an overall strategy for terrorism preparedness and making recommendations to coordinate the president's anti-terrorism budget. The bill, which now goes to the Senate, is sponsored by Rep. Tillie Fowler, R-Fla.

The terrorist victim bill is H.R. 3485. The terrorism council bill is H.R. 4210.


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