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To mark our 30th anniversary, we’ve reached into our archives to highlight key events and players who made a difference since we made our debut. A version of the following article appeared in the Aug. 23, 2004, edition…
Jackie Pflug and Glenn Johnson Jr. have never met, but the two will always share a special bond: Their lives were changed forever by violent acts of terrorism, and they feel that Libya, the country they believe is responsible, must pay. But a settlement deal that has allowed Johnson and the other families who lost loved ones in the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, to collect their long-awaited compensation from the Libyan government has set in motion a chain of events that may prevent Pflug and other victims of the 1985 EgyptAir hijacking from ever seeing any money from their lawsuit. “It would be a shame to let them off the hook,” says Pflug, who was left with permanent injuries after being shot in the head by hijackers aided by the Libyan government. A compromise was reached last year between the Libyan government and the families of the 270 people who perished when Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie in 1988. As part of the deal, the families of the Pan Am victims will each receive $10 million in compensation for Libya’s role in planting the bomb. The Libyans have agreed to pay the money in three installments — each pegged to conditions set by the Libyans. The families already received the first payment of $4 million when the United Nations lifted its sanctions against Libya in September 2003. They will receive another $4 million if the United States lifts certain sanctions against Libya, and will receive the final $2 million when Libya is removed from the State Department’s list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism.” With relations between the United States and Libya rapidly thawing in recent months, it appears to be just a matter of time before the remaining sanctions are lifted and Libya is removed from the list. The Libyan government has set a deadline of Sept. 22 for the move — which would free American companies to do business with the oil-rich country — but it may not take place until after the presidential election in November. But removing Libya’s name from the list of states that sponsor terrorism and unfreezing Libyan assets that have been held by the U.S. government — two specific conditions of the compromise — are exactly what lawyers for the EgyptAir victims fear could doom their case. Without the U.S. government’s control of the frozen assets, which are estimated at $1.2 billion, there is no incentive for Libya to settle with other American victims of Libyan-sponsored terrorism. And removing Libya from the list may put the country out of the victims’ legal reach. “The biggest concern in my judgment is that our position against Libya remain unified,” says Richard Heideman, of Heideman, Lezell, Nudelman & Kalik, who represents the EgyptAir plaintiffs. “They must compensate all the American victims before being given any restorative treatment like being taken off the list.” The lawyers representing the victims of the EgyptAir hijacking don’t have any doubts about the merits of their case. The problem, they say, is that without the frozen assets to use as leverage to force a quick settlement, the case could drag on indefinitely through the appeals process. Even if the attorneys are able to secure a judgment, there are still the problems with collecting from a sovereign state. Arman Dabiri, the attorney for Libya, believes that “the million-dollar question” still comes down to jurisdiction. There is no legal precedent that addresses whether a country once labeled a terrorist state is still liable for alleged terrorist acts once the designation is removed. “No country has ever gotten off this list,” Dabiri says.
Update: But several lawsuits against Libya for past terrorist attacks remain, and Libya still hasn’t paid the final $2-million-per-victim installment for the Pan Am bombing. The EgyptAir case, meanwhile, remains mired in pretrial motions and no trial date has been set. In January, President George W. Bush signed a bill making it easier for victims of terrorist attacks to sue foreign countries and seek assets. Since then, several actions have been filed against Libya. One plaintiff lawyer has already notifed several U.S. companies doing business with Libya that he is coming after their money.

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