A Washington federal judge yesterday awarded $338 million to the victims of a terrorist kidnapping, finding that the Syrian government was liable for supporting the group behind the abduction.
According to the opinion (PDF) from U.S. District Chief Judge Royce Lamberth, Marvin Wilson and Ronald Wyatt were taken hostage in Turkey in 1991 while visiting a possible archaeological site. They were held for 21 days before being released by their captors.
Lamberth found that the Syrian government provided material support and funding to the group behind the abduction, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. Under the state-sponsored terrorism exception to the federal Foreign Sovereign Immunities, Lamberth awarded damages to Wilson, Wilson's family and Wyatt's family; Wyatt died of cancer in 1999.
"The brutal character of the kidnapping in this case, the significant harm it caused both the hostage plaintiffs and their families, along with Syria's demonstrated and well known policy to encourage terrorism all merit an award of punitive damages," Lamberth wrote.
A lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Robert Tolchin of The Berkman Law Office in Brooklyn, N.Y., could not immediately be reached today for comment.
The Syrian government has not participated in the case except to assert their sovereign immunity against litigation in a U.S. court; they unsuccessfully pursued a motion to dismiss. Still, the Syrian government’s attorney, Ramsey Clark of Clark & Schilling in New York, said today that he thought the judgment “seemed excessive under any circumstances.”