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US court orders Iran to pay $9m. to families of 1997 Jerusalem terror attack victims

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For the first time in US history, victims of an Iran financed terror attack in Israel have won the  potential seizure of Iranian funds, the NGO Shurat Hadin–Israel Law Center  announced on Wednesday.

The approximately $9.7 million lien entered in  favor of the families of the five fatal victims of a triple suicide bombing in  central Jerusalem in 1997 (as well as in favor of a parallel, but separate,  claim by the daughter of an assassinated former Iranian prime minister) is the  first time that such victims have been so close to being granted Iranian assets  in the US.

The decision was handed down by a federal court in California  on November 27.

In a complex decision, the court rejected Shurat Hadin’s  request for the immediate transfer of the funds, explicitly staying any transfer  until Iran files its appeal. An appeal involving the numerous complex legal  issues and decades of history in the case, which has pieces dating back nearly  to the 1979 Iranian revolution, could take an undefined amount of  time.

The court explicitly said that any final transfer of the funds  would have to take into account another potential roadblock – the current  diplomatic process with Iran.

An order officially giving the victims’  families (who won a default judgment against Iran years ago) title to the funds  in theory, if not in practice, is a first in Shurat Hadin’s decade-long struggle  to not only win judgments on Iran-related terror financing cases, but to find  actual assets to satisfy the judgments.

Back in 2001, the organization  helped the American families of five of those wounded in the triple suicide  bombings to begin legal proceedings against Iran for its sponsorship of Hamas,  which had claimed credit.

In that attack, on September 4, 1997, three  operatives from the Islamist group set off explosives attached to their bodies  as they wandered the packed Ben Yehuda Street promenade in the middle of the  afternoon, killing five Israelis and wounding scores of others.

Three of  those killed were 14-year-old girls.

“This is a tremendous victory for  the victims of Islamic terrorism,” Nitsana Darshan- Leitner, founder of Shurat  Hadin, said in a statement.

“While the US and EU are rushing out to  economically bolster the outlawed regime in Tehran, we and the families we  represent do not forgive or forget the Iranianfunded terror that devastated  Israel,” the statement continued. “We still remember the heinous murders carried  out by the Iranian proxy, Hamas, in 1997. We are still fighting every single day  for a measure of justice and compensation from the outlawed regimes that  supported the terror organizations.”

The Iranian money that Shurat Hadin  has been seeking out is a story in itself.

The funds originated as part  of a judgment in favor of Iran (through proxies) against Cubic Defense Systems,  a US company that had contracts with pre-revolutionary Iran to sell it an air  combat maneuvering range system. Iran had paid Cubic $12 m. The company was  about to deliver much of the equipment when the 1979 Iranian revolution broke  out, cutting off US-Iran relations and scuttling implementation of the  deal.

In the 1990s Iran and Cubic engaged in international arbitration  over the deal, leading to a decision that the firm could sell the equipment to  another country but would have to pay Iran $2.8 m. plus a much larger amount of  interest.

In 2003, the daughter of former Iranian prime minister Shapour  Bakhtiar filed a lien to take title to the funds in light of a judgment she had  obtained against Iran.

The Shurat Hadin plaintiffs did the  same.

Although Iran claimed sovereign immunity, Shurat Hadin was able to  beat that defense, using recent changes to related laws by Congress that waive  such a right in certain cases involving international  terrorism.

Furthermore, whereas in the past, agreements and presidential  orders between the US and Iran regarding disputed assets prevented victims of  terror from seizing Iranian funds, here the court determined that Iran’s rights  to a judgment against Cubic did not really exist until 1998, pushing away the  usual obstacles.

The US government supported this position, a point that  could eventually become a problem in light of the new potential US-Iran  rapprochement.

 

 

 

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