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Jewish Family Seeks to Collect Multimillion Judgment Against Iran

July 10, 1998
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The family of an American Jewish student killed in a 1995 terrorist bombing in the Gaza Strip may be moving closer to collecting a $247.5 million judgment against Iran.

A federal judge will soon decide whether to put the Iranian government on notice that if it does not show up in court, frozen Iranian assets in the United States will be liquidated and turned over to the family of Alisa Flatow.

Flatow, a 20-year-old Brandeis University student from West Orange, N.J., was attending a Jerusalem yeshiva when she and seven Israeli soldiers were killed by a suicide bomber who drove a van into their bus in the Gaza Strip in April 1995.

Earlier this year, U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth ordered Iran to pay the money for its role in bankrolling the terrorist bombing attack that claimed Flatow’s life.

The ruling was the first under a 1996 anti-terrorism law, which allows U.S. citizens to file suit in U.S. courts against foreign state sponsors of terrorism if they can be shown to commit or aid in a terrorist act.

Lamberth this week granted a request by lawyers for Stephen Flatow, Alisa’s father, to serve Iran notice. But the judge decided Thursday to stay that order when the Clinton administration objected.

The Justice Department argued that the Iranian assets in question — three real estate parcels in Washington, D.C., including the structure that was the Iranian Embassy — are protected by federal law and international agreements.

Thomas Fay, a lawyer for Flatow, argued that the law’s directive on the matter was not binding and accused the administration of “undertaking a discretionary act to protect the property of terrorists.”

Flatow’s lawyers believe the American government is aware of the location of other Iranian assets in the country, and has subpoenaed Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to get a list of these assets.

The Clinton administration has said it would not comply with the subpoenas, calling them in a Justice Department letter “unduly burdensome and overly broad.”

Lamberth, in issuing the stay, asked both sides to submit briefs to the court before he makes a determination on serving Iran notice.

Steven Perles, another lawyer for Flatow, said in an interview that the larger goal, beyond getting Iran to appear in court and making it pay, is to see that the Flatow family is awarded a large judgment “so that Iran will reconsider the wisdom of engaging in terrorist attacks against” Americans citizens.

“This is purely an exercise in deterrence,” he added.

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