In what plaintiff’s Washington, D.C. lead trial counsel Richard D. Heideman termed a “landmark victory for justice,” a federal judge awarded $3.58 billion in damages against the Syrian government in response to its sponsorship of the brutal 1985 coordinated terrorist attack upon the Rome and Vienna Airports.
The judgment levied against Syria of this magnitude is certain to capture the attention of the Bashar al-Assad’s desperate regime.
The lawsuit was brought on behalf of 26 Americans who lost their lives or were maimed by the Abu Nidal Organization terrorist attacks. In rendering the judgment, Judge Facciola said, “The Rome and Vienna Airport attacks could not have taken place without Syria’s direct support.”
On the morning of December 27, 1985 the Abu Nidal Organization coordinated two terrorist attacks. Four terrorists entered the Fiumicino Airport in Rome, Italy, and fired Kalashnikov machine guns and threw hand grenades into the crowds of civilian men, women and children waiting to check in for their flights at the TWA and El Al ticket counters.
The terrorists selected these ticket counters because at the time El Al and TWA were the flagship airlines of Israel and the United States respectively. Simultaneously, at precisely 9:00 AM in Vienna, Austria, another group of four terrorists launched a murderous attack on civilians in the Schwechat Airport.
The terrorists murdered 16 people and injured 77 in the Rome Airport Attack, and murdered 3 people and injured 30 in the Vienna Airport Attack. Among the victims were 22 Americans, including young children.
Of the four governments remaining designated as State Sponsors of Terrorism, Syria alone holds the distinction of maintaining this designation since 1979. Attorneys from Heideman Nudelman & Kalik PC served as lead trial counsel in the case against the Syrian Arab Republic, Syrian Air Force Intelligence and General Muhammed Al-Khuli for their state sponsorship and involvement in the airport massacres. After six years of litigation, the court has definitively acted to hold Syria legally responsible.
The victims and families of the airport attacks endured 27 years of justice delayed. The attacks stole lives, inflicted physical pain, and mangled bodies. Survivors must forever live with the vivid memories of the mutilation of that day. And for some, the attacks meant never again seeing a beloved friend, a spouse, a parent, or a child. For the victims and their loved ones, this verdict communicates that the world has not forgotten their suffering and provides them hope that those who enabled the attackers will be significantly impacted and held accountable by the judgment.
But the importance of this record-shattering verdict against Syria extends far beyond obtaining justice for the victims of the two airport massacres. The judgment is designed to punish Syria and send a strong message which will hopefully deter future acts of terror by Syria and other nations.
Syria is a prime example of a State operating without accountability or restraint. In addition to sponsoring global terror, the Syrian regime is responsible for the deaths of more than 70,000 of its own citizens in the past two years, according to UN human rights experts.
Richard D. Heideman, lead trial counsel, expressed his commitment on behalf of victims of terrorism and other attacks by the Syrian government after the verdict, “Syria is threatening to use chemical weapons on their own people and their neighbors in the region. As a state sponsor of terror subject to jurisdiction in the US courts, Syria deserves to be singled out for their sponsorship of heinous acts of murder. They must be punished. The victims of terrorist acts deserve justice. This judgment is an important statement of the Court intended to punish Syria for its past acts and serve as a deterrent against future Syrian terrorism.”
Funds from state sponsors of terrorism enable murderous terrorists to inflict carnage upon the civilized world. The danger posed by these extremists is evidenced by the recent attacks on United States’ Libyan consulate along with the Bulgarian and Tel Aviv bus bombings. And of course, Iran’s funding of Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists in Gaza and Lebanon cannot be ignored. State sponsors of terror often fund this violence with minimal personal consequences as holding a head of state responsible in a criminal court is rarely possible. Although moral concerns may fail to impede funding of terrorism, financial judgments against the State may deter the desire and impede the capability to allocate funds for terrorism.
Full disclosure: the author is a lawyer working for the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Heideman Nudelman & Kalik, P.C. in Washington, D.C.