WASHINGTON, Dec. 12 (JTA) — The State Department is asking American families whose relatives were killed by Palestinian terrorists for permission to post their stories — along with rewards for information — on the Internet. Between 50 and 60 letters are being sent to families of Americans killed by Palestinian violence. The letters from James Larocco, principal deputy assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, say the government will offer "substantial monetary rewards" for information leading to the arrest or conviction of people responsible for acts of terrorism. "The Rewards for Justice program has proven to be an effective incentive for those with information about terrorist attacks and has helped bring many terrorists to justice," Larocco wrote. Stephen Flatow has already returned the consent form. His daughter, Alisa, was killed in April 1995 when a suicide bomber affiliated with Islamic Jihad blew up a bus near Kfar Darom, a settlement in the Gaza Strip. The 20-year-old from West Orange, N.J., was taking a break from her studies at Brandeis University to visit Israel. Until the recent State Department decision, Flatow said, he had felt there was a "double standard" between efforts to apprehend those who kill Americans in other parts of the world and Palestinians who attack Americans. "We always felt we were being treated like the foster kids," he said. While the FBI investigated his daughter´s death, no efforts were made to seek the 12 members of Islamic Jihad linked to the attack, he said. "Some are still walking the streets of the West Bank and Gaza," Flatow said. State Department officials say the decision to broaden the rewards program is not a response to the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington, but had been under consideration for months as the administration weighed the legalities. In Sept. 2000, the State Department said it did not want to post rewards for information on Americans killed in the Middle East because of efforts by Israel and the Palestinian Authority to apprehend suspects. At that time, 60 of 65 suspects accused of killing Americans between 1994 and 1998 were either dead or in Israeli or Palestinian custody, the State Department said. However, the last year of violence — when the Palestinian Authority released many prisoners from its jails — forced the United States to change tactics, officials said.. Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America, said that in other parts of the world the U.S. government actively seeks information related to the deaths of Americans, including advertising in print and broadcast media and on billboards, matchboxes and elsewhere. "We are urging the State Department to try to capture these killers in the same way they do in other countries," said Klein, who was one of the most prominent advocates on the issue. "Simply having it all on a Web site is not the same as having it in the Palestinian media." Still, the inclusion on the Web site is a first step that ZOA and other American Jewish groups have been seeking for some time. "The fact that America recognizes that there are evil people not just in Afghanistan and Pakistan but in the Middle East is a terrific statement by the Bush administration," Flatow said. In recent weeks, the Bush administration has made significant strides to combat terrorism in the Middle East. Bush assured American Jewish leaders Monday that Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad eventually will be targeted by the U.S.-led coalition against terrorism, and the Treasury Department recently shut down three U.S. organizations with financial links to Hamas. The Web site already lists other terrorists, including Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind behind the Sept. 11 attacks on America. The site is expected to be updated within weeks, once the State Department receives consent forms from a sufficient number of families.
JTA Staff This article was posted by JTA staff.