W A S H I N G T O N, July 11, 2000 -- A federal judge ruled today that Iran wasresponsible for a terrorist bombing in Israel that killed anAmerican couple, and awarded their relatives $327 million.
The parents of Matthew Eisenfeld, 25, a rabbinical student fromWest Hartford, Conn., and Sara Duker, 22, of Teaneck, N.J., suedIran under a federal law that allows victims to seek damages fromnations that sponsor international terrorism.
Payment Delay Expected
Other terrorism victims have won similar court judgments, onlyto be stymied by the U.S. government in their efforts to collect. The Clinton administration maintains that frozen assetsand diplomatic properties of foreign nations cannot be used to payoff the judgments.
Duker’s mother, Arline, said she expects similar roadblocks butis determined to overcome them.
“I see this as a $327 million weapon against Iran’s use ofterrorism to conduct foreign policy,” she said. “The issue is forIran not to have the money, for Iran to be punished.”
A message left at Iran’s mission to the United Nations was notimmediately returned today.
A Key ConfessionThe Iranian government did not send representatives to court tocontest the lawsuit. Still, to win a judgment, the families had toprove Iran was behind the Feb. 25, 1996, bus bombing in Jerusalemthat killed 24 and injured 80.
Their lawyer, Steven Perles, built the case around a confessionthe accused mastermind of the bombing, Hassan Salamah, gave toIsraeli police.
“We learned from that confession that he was selected by theIranians to run a Hamas bomb cell,” Perles said, using the popularname of the Islamic Resistance Movement.
Perles said Salamah spent time at a secret military installationoutside Tehran learning such skills as how to disassemble a landmine, so its explosive could be used in a terrorist attack.
Perles said the bomb that killed Duker and Eisenfeld contained20 pounds of explosive extracted from a mine built byCzechoslovakia, sold to Egypt and most likely salvaged from anabandoned minefield on the Egypt-Israel border.
The families each had asked for punitive damages of $500million. U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth awarded $300million, divided equally between the families.
‘It’s Still Quite a Loss’Lamberth also awarded wrongful death damages exceeding $1.4million for Eisenfeld and $1.2 million for Duker; pain andsuffering damages of $1 million each; and individual damage awardsof $5 million for Mrs. Duker, $5 million each for Eisenfeld’sparents, and $2.5 million each for Duker’s two sisters andEisenfeld’s sister.
Eisenfeld’s father, Leonard, said the goal of the lawsuit was todeter future terrorism so others will be spared the pain.
“We’re still mourning the loss of Sara and Matthew,” he said.“They were such precious individuals, and so embedded on ourhearts. It’s still quite a loss.”
Earlier this year, former hostage Terry Anderson won a $341million judgment against Iran for orchestrating his seven years ofcaptivity in Beirut. But the Clinton administration has objected toefforts to collect.
Sympathetic lawmakers are pushing bills that would require therelease of some frozen assets of nations that sponsor theterrorism. The legislation has cleared the judiciary committees ofthe House and Senate.
Perles said the Clinton administration has responded bypromising to propose a compromise measure, but he is dubious.
“Frankly, all they’ve done so far is stiff us,” he said.