Friday, December 6, 2013
PORTLAND — A Portland attorney who specializes in representing American victims of terrorism has won a $25 billion judgment against the Syrian government for attacks at airports in Rome and Vienna in 1985 that killed 19 people and injured 107.
Portland attorney Ron Jenkins in his Portland office: "These lawsuits which target the state sponsors are putting pressure where it belongs.”
John Ewing / Staff Photographer
The judgment appears to be one of the largest in U.S. history. By comparison, the largest environmental judgment is the $20 billion that BP agreed to pay to compensate victims of the Gulf oil spill in 2010.
"It's intended to punish and deter Syria and others from this kind of state-sponsored terrorism," said Ron Jenkins, owner of the Meridian 361 law firm. "If there is no state sponsorship, terrorist organizations can't exist. These lawsuits which target the state sponsors are putting pressure where it belongs."
Jenkins said he represented 25 people who were injured or whose family members died in the simultaneous attacks on Dec. 27, 1985, when four terrorists with machine guns opened fire at the airport in Rome and threw hand grenades into lines of passengers checking in at El Al and TWA counters.
In Vienna, four terrorists attacked the airport in the same manner.
Jenkins said no one represented Syria at trial, and the award was a default judgment.
In his judgment Wednesday, which awarded $1 billion to each plaintiff, Judge John M. Facciola cited evidence presented at trial that included testimony from family members of victims and confessions obtained by Jenkins and other lawyers from terrorists who were in prison in Rome and Vienna.
"The Rome and Vienna Airport attacks could not have taken place without Syria's direct support," Facciola ruled.
The $1 billion-per-plaintiff figure includes punitive damages of $150 million per plaintiff and 7 percent annual interest on that amount from 1985 to 2013.
Jenkins said he is confident that he will collect on the judgment, despite the civil war now raging in Syria and other challenges in such a case.
"Every time I've ever sued a foreign sovereign, I've collected," he said, including "hundreds of millions of dollars" from Libya in previous cases.
Jenkins, who also specializes in offshore asset protection, said he has identified Syrian assets outside of that country, but he would not comment further on how he plans to collect the judgment.
Jenkins said he got involved in the case at the request of the mother of one of the men who was killed in Rome. The man was studying in Italy and was on his way home for his father's birthday.
"He never made it," Jenkins said Friday. "Instead, his family got a call from the State Department."
In addition to the Syrian Arab Republic, the lawsuit named Syrian Air Force Intelligence and Gen. Muhammed Al-Khuli as defendants.
The Syrian government, Jenkins argued, sponsored and supported the Abu Nidal Organization, provided it with as much as $700,000 a year for expenses, and provided housing and transportation.
"(The terrorists) were trained in camps with regular Syrian forces, put up in safe houses in Damascus, and they couldn't have come and gone without the knowledge and permission of the Syrian government," Jenkins said.
Jenkins and attorneys from two other law firms filed the lawsuit under a 1996 amendment to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act that allowed Americans to sue countries identified as sponsors of terrorism by the State Department. All cases under the law are tried in federal court in Washington, D.C.
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