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Families of terror victims wait for compensation

WASHINGTON, Oct. 31 (JTA) — A father’s fight for compensation for the terrorist murder of his daughter is far from over.

For now, it is caught in the political and legal wrangling between the Clinton administration and those who seek to collect damages from state sponsors of terrorism.

Last year, an amendment to the Anti-Terrorism Act was passed to make it easier for Americans like Stephen Flatow of West Orange, N.J., to collect money against terrorist countries by seizing their assets frozen in the United States.

Flatow’s 20-year-old daughter, Alisa, was killed in a 1995 bus bombing in the Gaza Strip. The Islamic Jihad, which receives funding from Iran, was implicated in the attack.

But the president, citing national security concerns, has invoked a waiver in the law.

Flatow is perplexed that American officials who helped with his case against Iran are now fighting against it.

He testified at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Oct. 27, where families of victims and lawmakers criticized the Clinton administration for blocking their efforts to collect judgments they won in a U.S. court under a law President Clinton urged Congress to pass.

Sen. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) played a video clip of Clinton from February 1996 in which he urged Congress to pass the legislation. It was proposed after a small plane carrying four Cuban Americans looking for refugees in the Florida straits was shot down by the Cuban air force. Two months later, Clinton signed the Anti-Terrorism Act, which allows Americans to seek damages from countries that sponsor terrorism.

Mack and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) are trying to work around Clinton’s waiver. They introduced legislation Oct. 27 that would allow the president to block the seizure of diplomatic property but not commercial property or rental proceeds from diplomatic property.

Deputy Treasury Secretary Stuart Eizenstat said the Clinton administration opposes the bill, describing it as “fundamentally flawed.” He told lawmakers that the bill would harm American interests by eliminating the use of blocked assets as leverage in dealing with countries such as Iran and Cuba and would also put U.S. diplomatic property around the world at risk.

Eizenstat proposed setting up a commission that would recommend proposals to the president and Congress to help families receive compensation. Flatow, who testified at the hearing, told JTA that the commission was another delaying tactic being used by the administration.

“This city needs another commission like a moose needs a hat rack,” said Flatow, who is trying to collect on a $247.5 million court judgment against Iran.

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