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Victims of State-Sponsored Terrorism Can Sue, and Now They Can be Paid

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Chicago, ILIt’s not often that victims of state-sponsored terrorism, or their families, receive compensation for injuries, hardships or other atrocities committed or alleged at the hands of terrorists (although that is beginning to change). While it is possible to file a civil suit against a country or state which allows, supports or sponsors terrorism, collecting compensation from a defendant halfway around the world has, in most cases, proven impossible.

However, there are exceptions. In 2014 a US court awarded damages to the families of two deceased US military contractors following their kidnapping and execution by al-Qaida in 2004. The families of Olin Eugene “Jack” Armstrong and Jack L. Hensley, known as the Gates plaintiffs, successfully sued the state of Syria for damages and collected from US-held Syrian assets parked at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in Illinois. The award, totaling $413 million, was distributed in December of 2014.

The award was appealed to the Seventh Circuit, which upheld the lower court’s ruling in 2015.

The case becomes a bit complicated here, in that a second set of state-sponsored terrorism plaintiffs filed a motion with the Seventh Circuit this past August, asking the Court to recall its mandate with regard to the Gates award. Relatives of Ronald Wyatt and Marvin T. Wilson, known as the Wyatt plaintiffs, actually launched a state-sponsored terrorism lawsuit against Syria ahead of the Gates lawsuit. However the Gates plaintiffs received their judgement first, with the Wyatt judgement – coming about a year after the Gates judgement was affirmed – totaling $338 million, compared with the Gates judgement of $413 million.

The assumption is that the Wyatt plaintiffs were seeking a more equitable distribution of assets. For its part the Seventh Circuit, in a ruling released earlier this month, denied the Wyatt motion.

“Granting relief for the Wyatt plaintiffs would require the courts to try to compel the Gates plaintiffs to return money that was distributed to them with court approval nearly two years ago, in December 2014,” the Seventh Circuit wrote.

The cases are Mary Wyatt et al. v. Francis Gates et al., Case numbers 14-3344 and 14-3327, in the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

The aforementioned lawsuits against state-sponsored terrorism are not rare. However, successfully collecting compensation is. It is for this reason the US Congress, through passage of The Justice for United States Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Act, created a fund in late 2015 that will at least partially compensate victims of state-sponsored terrorism, and who serve as plaintiffs or class participants in lawsuits against countries or states that sponsor, allow or support terrorism.

When plaintiffs are awarded compensation and where it is found that collecting the award is not possible from the defendant, the special fund will be available to distribute at least partial compensation to plaintiffs.

For more information please read Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund.


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