RICHMOND, Va. – Nearly nine years after 17 sailors were killed in a terrorist attack on the USS Cole, some relatives of the victims are set to receive at least $200,000 each from Sudan, a lawyer said Tuesday.
The 33 spouses, parents and children of the sailors have fought in court for the compensation for six years. They successfully argued the Sudanese government provided support, including money and training, that allowed Al Qaeda suicide bombers to attack the Navy destroyer at a refueling stop at the Yemen port of Aden on Oct. 12, 2000. The suicide bombers were in a small boat and tore a gaping 40-foot hole in the destroyer.
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The U.S. government had frozen the money in New York banks, but a federal judge recently ordered the release of $13.4 million in Sudanese accounts.
"Not one penny can replace the life of my child," said Mona Gunn of Virginia Beach, whose 22-year-old son Cherone was killed in the attack. "The sad thing is, not all family members are receiving compensation. There are mothers and fathers who lost children who aren't going to get compensation, and siblings who lost a brother or sister."
Twenty-six other parents who sued Sudan were not eligible for compensation, which went instead to their child's spouse or children, a judge in Norfolk, Va., ruled in 2007.
The Sudanese government didn't fight the case during a trial, but has refused to pay the families. A spokesman for the Sudanese Embassy in Washington said Tuesday the country had nothing to do with the attack.
"It didn't take place on Sudan soil or water, and there is no Sudanese involvement in it," said spokesman Seif Yasin. "There's no proof Sudan provided any financial support for anyone involved."
U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood's order freed the funds under the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002, which requires the release of blocked assets to satisfy a judgment against a "terrorist party." The State Department has designated Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1993, Wood said.
Individual awards will range from about $200,000 to $1.2 million, according to Andrew C. Hall, an attorney for the families.
Hall said the family members, including those previously denied compensation, will also seek pain and suffering payment under a new law passed by Congress last year. The Death on the High Seas Act allowed the Norfolk judge to award compensation only for lost wages and earning potential.
The additional compensation sought under the new law could amount to about $50 million, Hall said. The families originally sought more than $100 million.
"It's been a long fight for these people, and hopefully this is the first step," he said.
Thomas Wibberley of Williamsport, Md., who son, Seaman Apprentice Craig Bryan Wibberley, was killed in the attack said the money should help children of the victims.
"They're going to get a good amount of this money and get trust funds, and they're the ones to be taken care of," he said.
John Clodfelter of Mechanicsville, Va., is among those who sued but was not eligible for an award because his son Kenneth left a wife and a son, now 10. Nonetheless, he was pleased with Wood's decision.
"It's about time something was done," Clodfelter said. "It's taken so much more time than we thought it should take."