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Jewish Family Sues Iran for Death of a Daughter

February 27, 1997
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Family members of a Jewish victim of Middle Eastern terrorism have for the first time sued Iran for damages.

Stephen Flatow, the father of Alisa Flatow, the 20-year-old American victim of an April 9, 1995, suicide bombing in the Gaza Strip, filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking $150 million in damages.

Islamic Jihad, the militant fundamentalist group that receives $2 million a year from Iran, claimed responsibility for the attack, according to court papers.

Standing next to a poster-size photo of his daughter, Flatow of West Orange, N.J., vowed to seek justice.

“I am not a sovereign nation. I cannot wage war,” Flatow said at a Capitol Hill news conference.

But he can battle in the courts.

A provision of last year’s anti-terrorism law allows American citizens to file suits in U.S. courts against foreign sponsors of terrorism.

“When you lose a child, you want to pull the covers over your head and make the rest of the world disappear,” Flatow said. “But you can’t do that.”

Flatow’s effort to stop Iran from exporting terrorism is not the first time he has sought to make a difference.

After Alisa Flatow’s death, the family donated her organs to Israelis needing transplants. Israeli doctors credit this decision with saving three lives.

“There is no doubt that the funding spigot for international terrorism starts in Iran,” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) at the news conference designed as a send-off before attorneys filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court.

“Nothing can bring Alisa Flatow back to her family and friends. I do hope, however, that the award of large punitive damages in this lawsuit will spare other families the same suffering,” said Lautenberg, who was traveling in Israel at the same time that a suicide bomber rammed his car into the No. 36 Egged bus as it approached Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip, killing Flatow and seven other passengers.

Lautenberg was joined by other New Jersey lawmakers, Reps. Jim Saxton (R-N.J.), who called the news conference, and Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.).

The Flatows are seeking damages from the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as from the Ayatollah Ali Hoseini Khamenei and the president of Iran, Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, according to a copy of the lawsuit, which, along with a photo of Alisa Flatow and the charred bus, was distributed to reporters.

“My family has no illusions about the road ahead of us,” Flatow said.

According to Steven Perles, the Flatows’ attorney, it is likely to take four years before the case comes to trial.

This is not the first time Iran will be defending itself in a U.S. court.

After Lebanese terrorists freed American hostages in the late 1980s, some tried to sue Iran for damages.

Iran vigorously and successfully defended itself, Perles said.

But that was before Congress passed a law last year that allows American victims of terrorism to sue for damages if the attack was promoted by a country that the State Department includes on its annual list of nations that sponsor terrorism.

Iran has been included on the list since the State Department first issued it in 1986.

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