In what one attorney calls the first judgment of its kind, U.S. District Chief Judge Royce Lamberth recently ordered Iran and Syria to pay $332 million for their role in a 2006 suicide attack in Israel that killed eleven people.
The family of Daniel Wultz, an American sixteen-year-old killed in the attack, sued the Iranian and Syrian government in 2008 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The Wultz family accused both countries of providing financial and other material support to the group responsible for the attack, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
In an opinion (PDF)opinion published Monday, Lamberth found that both countries were liable for the attack under the state-sponsored terrorism exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. Robert Tolchin of the Berman Law Office in Brooklyn, NY, the Wultz family's lawyer, said he believed this was the first judgment ever entered in a U.S. court against Syria for supporting a terrorist attack in Israel.
Lamberth heard evidence on Syria and Iran’s liability at a two-day hearing in February. In his opinion, he wrote that the evidence on how the attack affected Wultz’s family was “heartrending.” Wultz was traveling in Israel with his family at the time, and was with his father when the attack took place.
“In stark contrast to the Iranian and Syrian thugs stands the courageous Wultz family,” Lamberth wrote. “The Wultz family resolved to fight injustice with whatever tools were at their disposal, and their patient determination over the last six years is a credit to both themselves and to the memory of their beloved Daniel.”
Tolchin said he and the Wultz family “were very gratified by the judgment.” Now that a judgment is entered, Tolchin said they’ll begin looking for Syrian and Iranian assets to claim against the judgment. As Lamberth and other judges have noted in similar opinions granting large money judgments in state-sponsored terrorism cases, collecting on these judgments can be difficult.
Lead counsel for the Syrian government, Ramsey Clark of New York’s Clark & Schilling, declined to comment. The Iranian government was not represented in the case.