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Court Orders Sudan to Pay $315M to Victims of Terror Attack on USS Cole

The USS Cole was refueling in Yemen in October of 2000 when two al-Qaeda suicide bombers blew a hole in its hull. The attack killed 17 sailors and injured another 39. Fifteen of the injured sailors and three of their spouses filed a federal lawsuit against Sudan in 2010, claiming the country helped facilitate the bombing by lending material support to al-Qaeda.

The victims won the case, and now a federal appeals court in New York is ordering three banks to turn over Sudanese funds to satisfy the judgment.

Judgment a Long Time Coming

Suing a foreign country can be a little complicated. The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act waives foreign sovereign immunity from crimes of terrorism, and lays out the legal process by which countries can be held liable for funding terrorist activities.

Here's a brief timeline of the USS Cole victims' lawsuit against Sudan:

  • 2010: Rick Harrison and others file their lawsuit in Washington, D.C. against the Sudanese government, several chemical and electrical companies, and three international banks.
  • 2012: Sudan fails to respond to the lawsuit and the D.C. District Court enters a default judgment of $314.7 million in the victim's favor.
  • 2012: The victims register their judgment in a U.S. District Court in New York, and the judge orders Mashreqbank PSC, BNP Paribas SA and Credit Agricole Corporate and Investment Bank to turn over Sudanese assets.
  • 2014: Sudan appealed the turnover orders, arguing the original lawsuit was not properly served on its foreign minister and that the lower court failed to follow the appropriate steps in issuing the turnover orders.
  • September 23, 2015: The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the judgment against Sudan, reaffirming the order to the banks.

Terrorism Lawsuits

This is not the first successful terrorism lawsuit and it's likely not the last. The victims' attorney, Andrew Hall, has a history of winning lawsuits against state sponsors of terrorism like Iraq and Libya. And there are two other judgments against Sudan and one against Iran for the USS Cole bombing.

Seizing the actual funds to satisfy judgments in anti-terror lawsuits has always been the hard part; but with this latest ruling, victims from an attack ten years ago may be one step closer to restitution.

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