On September 4, 1997, Hamas carried out a triple suicide bombing in the crowded Ben Yehuda Street pedestrian mall in Jerusalem.
Five bystanders were killed and nearly 200 were injured. Hamas claimed responsibility for the bombing, and Israeli police arrested two Hamas operatives who participated in the attack. They and other members of their Hamas cell gave Israeli authorities information about the planning, financing, and execution of this act of terrorism. The two were later convicted of multiple counts of murder and attempted murder.
In 2001, the victims sued Iran in the D.C. District Court under the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act (FSIA), for directly funding Hamas’s activities, which included the Ben Yehuda attack. Iran did not respond to the complaint and a default judgment was entered by the DC District Court that same year.
In September, 2003 the court affirmed the default judgment following a review of the evidence, finding that plaintiffs adequately demonstrated that Iran supported Hamas, a designated terrorist organization, in carrying out terror acts and was therefore liable under the Act. As such, the court ordered over $300,000,000 dollars in compensatory and punitive damages.
The plaintiffs attempted to execute the judgment, and eventually claimed the sale proceeds of a of a home in Texas that was owned by Iran.
Subsequently, the plaintiffs attempted to attach pieces of art and antiquities owned by Iran and held by museums around the US by filing cases in Massachussets and Illinois federal courts. Both courts held that the commercial exception under the FSIA providing for attachment did not apply to museum property.
Plaintiffs also attempted to attach under the 2002 Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA), arguing that the antiquities were “blocked assets” under the Act. The Massachusetts court agreed with plaintiffs, subject to a factual hearing as to whether Iran actually owned the museum pieces. The Illinois court has not issued a decision.
The case was appealed and ended up in the First Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2013, the Court of Appeals held that the items in the museum did belong to Iran but were not capable of being attached.