Friends and relatives of Samdar Elhanon mourn her death 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
For the first time in US history, victims of an Iran financed terror attack in Israel have won the
potential seizure of Iranian funds, the NGO Shurat Hadin–Israel Law Center
announced on Wednesday.
The approximately $9.7 million lien entered in
favor of the families of the five fatal victims of a triple suicide bombing in
central Jerusalem in 1997 (as well as in favor of a parallel, but separate,
claim by the daughter of an assassinated former Iranian prime minister) is the
first time that such victims have been so close to being granted Iranian assets
in the US.
The decision was handed down by a federal court in California
on November 27.
In a complex decision, the court rejected Shurat Hadin’s
request for the immediate transfer of the funds, explicitly staying any transfer
until Iran files its appeal. An appeal involving the numerous complex legal
issues and decades of history in the case, which has pieces dating back nearly
to the 1979 Iranian revolution, could take an undefined amount of
The court explicitly said that any final transfer of the funds
would have to take into account another potential roadblock – the current
diplomatic process with Iran.
An order officially giving the victims’
families (who won a default judgment against Iran years ago) title to the funds
in theory, if not in practice, is a first in Shurat Hadin’s decade-long struggle
to not only win judgments on Iran-related terror financing cases, but to find
actual assets to satisfy the judgments.
Back in 2001, the organization
helped the American families of five of those wounded in the triple suicide
bombings to begin legal proceedings against Iran for its sponsorship of Hamas,
which had claimed credit.
In that attack, on September 4, 1997, three
operatives from the Islamist group set off explosives attached to their bodies
as they wandered the packed Ben Yehuda Street promenade in the middle of the
afternoon, killing five Israelis and wounding scores of others.
those killed were 14-year-old girls.
“This is a tremendous victory for
the victims of Islamic terrorism,” Nitsana Darshan- Leitner, founder of Shurat
Hadin, said in a statement.
“While the US and EU are rushing out to
economically bolster the outlawed regime in Tehran, we and the families we
represent do not forgive or forget the Iranianfunded terror that devastated
Israel,” the statement continued. “We still remember the heinous murders carried
out by the Iranian proxy, Hamas, in 1997. We are still fighting every single day
for a measure of justice and compensation from the outlawed regimes that
supported the terror organizations.”
The Iranian money that Shurat Hadin
has been seeking out is a story in itself.
The funds originated as part
of a judgment in favor of Iran (through proxies) against Cubic Defense Systems,
a US company that had contracts with pre-revolutionary Iran to sell it an air
combat maneuvering range system. Iran had paid Cubic $12 m. The company was
about to deliver much of the equipment when the 1979 Iranian revolution broke
out, cutting off US-Iran relations and scuttling implementation of the
In the 1990s Iran and Cubic engaged in international arbitration
over the deal, leading to a decision that the firm could sell the equipment to
another country but would have to pay Iran $2.8 m. plus a much larger amount of
In 2003, the daughter of former Iranian prime minister Shapour
Bakhtiar filed a lien to take title to the funds in light of a judgment she had
obtained against Iran.
The Shurat Hadin plaintiffs did the
Although Iran claimed sovereign immunity, Shurat Hadin was able to
beat that defense, using recent changes to related laws by Congress that waive
such a right in certain cases involving international
Furthermore, whereas in the past, agreements and presidential
orders between the US and Iran regarding disputed assets prevented victims of
terror from seizing Iranian funds, here the court determined that Iran’s rights
to a judgment against Cubic did not really exist until 1998, pushing away the
The US government supported this position, a point that
could eventually become a problem in light of the new potential US-Iran