January 14, 2020 / 7:51 AM / a month ago

U.S. Supreme Court rebuffs Sudan bid to limit damages over embassy bombings

The U.S. Supreme Court is seen in Washington, U.S., June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Erin Schaff/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear Sudan’s bid to avoid paying $3.8 billion in damages to family members of people killed or injured in al Qaeda’s 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania after a lower court found Sudan complicit.

Those damages are only a portion of the $10.2 billion a federal judge awarded to the hundreds of plaintiffs who brought several lawsuits in the litigation that began in 2001. The justices declined to take up Sudan’s appeal of a federal appeals court ruling allowing damages claims by family members - all non-U.S. citizens - who sought compensation for emotional distress they experienced due to the bombings.

The appeal is the latest move by Sudan, which in court papers called itself an impoverished nation riven by civil war, to reduce its exposure in the litigation. The Supreme Court already is set to hear arguments in February over a separate bid by Sudan to avoid about $4.3 billion in punitive damages also awarded to a broader set of plaintiffs.

“Sudan is in the midst of a historic transition to a civilian-led democracy, and the vast increase in liability at issue here undermines Sudan’s desperately needed economic recovery,” attorneys for Sudan said in a court filing.

The damages were imposed by default against Sudan’s government because for most of the litigation it did not appear before a lower U.S. court to defend itself against allegations that it harbored and provided support to the Islamist militant group al Qaeda, which led to the embassy bombings.

The bombings in Kenya’s capital Nairobi as well as Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on Aug. 7, 1998 killed 224 people and marked the first large-scale attack by al Qaeda. Twelve Americans were among the dead, with thousands of other people wounded. Three years later, al Qaeda operatives carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, killing nearly 3,000 people.

The plaintiffs sued under the 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), which generally bars claims against foreign countries except those designated by the United States as a state sponsor of terrorism, as Sudan has been since 1993.

They first sued in 2001 in federal court in Washington. Six other lawsuits followed involving more than 700 plaintiffs who were killed or injured in the attacks, or are family members of the victims.

In a separate matter, the Supreme Court last year prevented American sailors who had accused Sudan of complicity in the 2000 al Qaeda bombing of the Navy destroyer USS Cole that killed 17 sailors from collecting damages.

Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham

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