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Thursday, February 18, 2010     FOR YOUR EYES ONLY

Victims of 2006 Hizbullah rocket attacks sue Iran's top banks

WASHINGTON — In the first such case, victims of Hizbullah attacks have filed suit against Iran's leading banks.   

Eighty-five people identified as victims of Hizbullah rocket strikes in Israel in 2006 have sued Iran's leading banks in a U.S. court. The suit in U.S. District Court in Washington seeks $1 billion in compensatory damages from Iran's Central Bank and Bank Saderat.

"The plaintiffs, whose family members were killed or who were themselves injured by rockets fired at Israel by Hizbullah between July 12 and Aug. 14, 2006, allege that the banks, which are controlled by the Iranian government, provided Hizbullah with over $50 million in financial support in the years prior to the attacks with the specific intent of facilitating Hizbullah terrorist attacks against American and Israeli targets," the Israel Law Center, which helped bring the suit, said.

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The suit, which also included Saderat's subsidiary in London, charged that Hizbullah used funding relayed by the Iranian banks to prepare for the 2006 war against Israel. During the 34-day war, Hizbullah fired about 4,500 rockets into Israel, mostly targeting civilian areas.

"This is the first lawsuit brought by terror victims against the Iranian banking system," the center said.

The plaintiffs, comprised of Americans, Canadians and Israelis, have also sought an unspecified sum in punitive damages. Attorneys Robert Tolchin and Nitsana Darshan-Leitner were said to have based their claims on a 2007 determination by the U.S. Treasury Department that Iran's Central Bank transferred funds to Hizbullah via London's Bank Saderat.

"In light of the explicit findings by the U.S. Treasury, we expect that proving liability in this case will present no difficulties," Tolchin said.

Both Tolchin and Ms. Darshan-Leitner have represented Israeli victims of Islamic insurgency attacks in suits against Fatah, Iran and Hamas. For her part, Ms. Darshan-Leitner, based in Israel, said Iranian banks operate freely in Europe despite their financial support to Hizbullah and other insurgency groups.

"Without the funds transferred by these banks, Hizbullah would have been unable to maintain its infrastructure, train its terrorist members or carry out the rocket attacks," Ms. Darshan-Leitner said. "These banks, which operate freely in Europe, intentionally aided and abetted Hizbullah terrorism and are responsible for the injuries suffered by the victims of these attacks."

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