[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] on Monday awarded [opinion, PDF] victims’ families over $300 million dollars in damages from the governments of Syria and Iran for their roles in an April 2006 terrorist attack in Israel. The lawsuit was filed by the Shurat HaDin Israel Law Center [advocacy website] on behalf of plaintiffs who were injured or lost family members in a suicide bombing attack at the Rosh Ha’ir restaurant in Tel Aviv, Israel. The plaintiffs alleged that the governments of Syria and Iran offered crucial aid to the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the terrorist group that carried out the attack. In its decision, the court found that the defendants’ connection with the PIJ was significant:
The evidence shows that defendants completely lacked any semblance of remorse for this deadly attack and in fact, encouraged and supported this and similar attacks. When a state chooses to use terror as a policy tool—as Iran and Syria continue to do—that state forfeits its sovereign immunity and deserves unadorned condemnation.
Defendants previously attempted to have the case dismissed for sovereign immunity, but their motion was denied. In a press release [text] the Shurat HaDin Israel Law Center noted that this was the group’s first successful suit against Syria.
Iran has faced similar lawsuits in the past. In May 2011, a judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia granted $300 million in punitive damages [JURIST report] in each of two cases against Iran for deaths resulting from suicide bombings by Iranian-backed terrorist groups. In February 2010, 85 victims of rocket attacks in Israel filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] in DC District Court seeking damages from Iran and Iran’s central bank for injuries suffered in the 2006 Second Lebanon War. In 2009, the US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [JURIST report] in Ministry of Defense and Support for the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran v. Elahi [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that the brother of dissident Cyrus Elahi, assassinated in Paris in 1990, cannot collect on a default judgment he holds against Iran by attaching a $2.8 million judgment obtained by the Iranian Ministry of Defense against California-based Cubic Defense Systems [corporate website]. Dariush Elahi was awarded $11.7 million in compensatory and $300 million in punitive damages after Iran refused to respond to his 2000 lawsuit brought in a Washington federal court, alleging that the Iranian government was responsible for his brother’s death.