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Syria Found Liable in U.S. Court for PKK Kidnapping of Americans

Tue, December 18, 2012

In a landmark ruling, a United States district court found the government of Syria liable for the 1991 kidnappping and torture of American citizens by PKK  (the Kurdish Workers Party), a U.S. State Department-designated terrorist organization. Syria became liable by providing material support and resources to the terrorist organization.

The Washington, D.C. court awarded the plaintiffs $338 million -- $38 million dollars in compensatory damages and an additional $300 million in punitive damages.

Chief District Court Judge Royce Lamberth ruled that Syria was vicariously liable for the PKK's kidnapping of a group of American biblical archeologists leading an excavation in Turkey. The Americans, who were searching to discover the location of the remains of the biblical Noah's Ark, were held hostage for 21 days before they managed to escape.

The families of the American citizens were represented by attorneys Robert Tolchin of New York and Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of Tel-Aviv. Darshan-Leitner is the director of the Shurat HaDin Law Center. Shurat HaDin is an Israeli-based civil rights organization and world leader in combating terrorist organizations and the regimes that support them through lawsuits around the world. In addition to fighting for the rights of hundreds of terror victims, Shurat HaDin seeks to bankrupt terror groups to stop their activities to a halt through lawsuits such as these.

In Sept. 1991, Marvin Wilson and Ronald Wyatt traveled to Turkey as part of an archeological project to excavate a site near Mount Ararat, where according to the Old Testament, Noah’s Ark is believed to have finally found land. Shortly after traveling near the Syrian border the Americans, along with others, were taken hostage by armed gunmen.

For the next 21 days the captives were subjected to brutal treatment, forced 18 hour marches and repeatedly assaulted by their PKK captors. The terrorists made ransom demands to the Turkish and American governments.

Wilson and the family of the late Wyatt brought the lawsuit against Syria alleging that Damascus had allowed the PKK to operate from Syrian territory, and provided financial support and training to the terrorist group. The lawsuit sought both compensation and punitive damages from Syria.

The lawsuit began in 2001, a complaint was filed against Syria pursuant to the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act’s terrorism exception (28 U.S.C. § 1605A) in the U.S. district court.

In the December 17, 2012 ruling, the Court wrote that: “The brutal character of the kidnapping in this case, the significant harm it caused both the hostage plaintiffs and their families, along with Syria’s demonstrated and well-known policy to encourage terrorism all merit an award of punitive damages.”

Attorney Darshan-Leitnercommented, “This is a groundbreaking ruling which finds that Syria was responsible for the crimes perpetrated by the PKK terror organization it sponsors. This ruling also points to an underlying fact: The free world will no longer stand idle while international crimes are committed, and it will fight against those rogue regimes which support these heinous acts. Above all, the court found that this kidnapping was brutal and heinous, and involved threats of execution, torture, as well as marches through mountains and dense forests. It is therefore fitting that compensation should be in the millions not in the tens of thousands. These days Syria continues to commit crimes against those who oppose the regime, and Syria will pay.”

Attorney Tolchin added, “Although the events that gave rise to this judgment took place a number of years ago, it is remarkable how little things have changed. Syria is still playing a proxy game creating terror, instability and mayhem via the PKK and Hizbollah.”

Mary Nell Lee, the wife of the late Ronald Wyatt, said, “I am so very grateful that the judge recognized the effects this kidnapping had on our families. Each of our lives was changed in ways that have continued until this day. My prayer is that all those who have suffered at the hands of terrorists receive compensation such as we have been awarded. While it cannot erase the memories of the event, it can provide each person a sense of justice and closure. Hopefully, it will have an effect on the countries involved in supporting terrorist organizations and help them learn that they cannot get away with such horrendous behavior.”