Supreme Court: Victims of 1998 Al Qaeda attacks in Africa can sue Sudan

The Supreme Court sided Monday with victims of Al Qaeda’s 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa, ruling unanimously that they were eligible for punitive damages from Sudan, which was found to have assisted the terror organization.

The decision comes at a delicate time for relations between the U.S. and Sudan, where an uprising last year overthrew the 30-year regime of Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide allegedly committed by his forces in the country’s Darfur region. Washington and the transitional government in Khartoum recently agreed to exchange ambassadors for the first time in decades.

As part of its effort to get off the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, Sudan this year settled claims by victims of the 2000 Al Qaeda attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, who likewise alleged the Bashir regime had supported the terror organization. The State Department is seeking to negotiate a settlement for the embassy bombings as well, the plaintiffs’ lawyers said.

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“Sudan helped Al Qaeda perpetrate the terrorist bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, which devastated countless families of the U.S. employees and contractors working there. It’s hard to imagine an act more deserving of punitive damages,” said Matthew D. McGill, who argued the case in February. “We are hopeful that this soon will lead Sudan to reach a just and equitable resolution with its victims.” The Nairobi victims were the only ones who sought punitive damages, Mr. McGill said.

“Sudan looks forward to further proceedings in this continuing litigation, while it remains engaged with the United States in negotiations to normalize the bilateral relationship,” said Christopher Curran, who argued for Sudan. “As always, Sudan expresses sympathy for the victims of the acts of terrorism at issue, but reaffirms that it was not involved in any wrongdoing in connection with those acts.”

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