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For the families of those who died in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, the decision to remove Libya from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism means that a lawsuit that’s dragged on for a decade might soon come to an end. But for the relatives of victims who died in other Libyan-backed terrorist attacks, the decision could mean a long legal road still lies ahead. As part of a settlement reached in 2003 with the families of Pan Am 103 victims, Libya agreed to pay $10 million on behalf of each of the 270 victims, 189 of whom were Americans. Libya already has doled out $8 million to each of the families, with the remaining $2 million contingent upon the country’s removal from the State Department’s terrorism list. “I expect that they will honor their obligation and the families will get the last payment when Libya comes off the list,” says James Kreindler, a partner with New York-based Kreindler & Kreindler, who represents some of the relatives of Pan Am 103 passengers. To date, those Pan Am plaintiffs are the only Americans to be compensated by Libya for terrorist acts. And some lawyers involved in litigation with Libya fear that its removal from the state sponsors of terrorism list will eliminate any incentive for it to cooperate in pending cases brought by victims of other acts of terror, such as the 1986 bombing of a West Berlin disco frequented by U.S. soldiers, the 1989 bombing of a French commercial flight over Niger, and the 1985 hijacking of an EgyptAir flight. “There are more American victims of Libyan terrorism than only Pan Am 103, and Libya should be required to pay each victim for the loss of life and limb,” says Richard Heideman, senior counsel at Heideman Nudelman & Kalik in Washington, who represents victims of the EgyptAir hijacking and of a Libyan-sponsored terrorist attack at a Rome airport that same year. But Heideman adds: “All of that being said, I certainly understand the desire and the goal of the president and secretary of state in demonstrating Libya’s turn away from terrorism as an example of a path that other rogue states, such as Iran, can follow.” After Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s May 15 announcement that the United States was fully restoring diplomatic relations with Libya, Congress began a 45-day review of the decision. But because the move does not require congressional approval, it’s almost certain the longtime pariah nation will be removed from the list at the end of the review period. This week various victims’ groups are expected to meet with members of Congress to ask that the U.S. government urge Libya to move forward with pending lawsuits and, when the time comes, to pay. According to Steven Perles, a D.C. solo practitioner who represents victims of the EgyptAir hijacking and other terrorist attacks, Libya has repeatedly delayed litigation by filing frivolous appeals. For example, Perles says it’s not unusual for Libya to appeal something as simple as an order to meet and confer with opposing counsel. Armin Dabiri, who runs his own practice in Washington and who represents Libya in most of these civil suits, did not return calls for comment. There are about a dozen civil suits in the United States stemming from Libya’s use of terrorism. All of those cases — some of which were filed by insurance companies — are pending in the U.S. District Court in Washington. Now, with Libya’s expected removal from the terrorism list, combined with the country’s past conduct in U.S. courts, Perles says pending lawsuits could linger for up to another decade. “This decision likely will cause these cases to be litigated for years, and time matters to these people,” Perles says. But, he adds, “We’ll ultimately get paid.” Perles, Heideman, and other lawyers handling terrorism cases involving Libya are confident their clients eventually will collect, because as trade increases with Libya — a result of revived diplomatic relations — there will be more Libyan assets available in the United States. And if necessary, those lawyers say, judgments can be recouped by freezing those assets. “Ultimately, we will be successful and the amount of the judgment will be huge,” Heideman says. “However, getting that accomplished, given the legal obstacles of dealing with Libya, will be significant, time-consuming, expensive, and wasteful.”
Sarah Kelley can be contacted at [email protected].

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