In a watershed decision, a federal judge in Chicago ruled this month that several American-based entities and individuals that allegedly supported Hamas were liable for the group’s killing of an United States citizen in Israel.
Judge Arlander Keys of the U.S. District Court in Chicago said the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP) and a man called Mohamed Salah were liable to pay damages to the family of David Boim, who was 17 when he was shot by two Hamas operatives in the West Bank in 1996. The defendants are accused of providing material support to Hamas, which has been listed as a terrorist organization by the State Department since 1995.
Stephen Landes, a lawyer for the Boim family, said it was the first ruling holding domestic entities liable under a 1990 federal law that allows victims of terrorism to sue for civil damages.
“This is unique because the family did not go after the PLO or Iran,” he told the Forward. “This is the first success in holding domestic supporters of Hamas responsible.”
A trial before a jury is to begin in Chicago on December 1 to determine the amount of the damages. Landes said the Boim family would ask for about $30 million.
Representatives for the defendants lambasted the decision.
“It is a very unfortunate and wrong judgment,” said Rafeeq Jaber, IAP’s president, who denied any links between his group and Hamas. “The judge just went with the flow…. We have nothing to do with David Boim; we did not even know he existed before this.”
He said the IAP would appeal the ruling and was determined to pursue all legal avenues, including going to the Supreme Court.
“Justice has to be served for the Palestinian people,” he said. “They are the victims, and the Sharon government is the terrorist.”
Matthew Piers, an attorney for Salah, said this was “one of the most bizarre rulings I have ever seen,” one that was based on slim evidence and in which the linkage between his client and the killing does not exist. Salah was in an Israeli jail when Boim was killed, Piers asserted. He said he would recommend that his client appeal the ruling after a final judgment is entered in the case.
The case offers an illustration of how the definition of what constitutes providing “material support” to terrorist groups has changed since the September 11, 2001, attacks.
In May 2000, Boim’s parents sued four individuals and six entities for civil liabilities under a 1990 antiterrorism law. In 2001, a federal judge rejected motions to dismiss filed by the defendants. The decision was upheld in June 2002 in a landmark ruling by the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, which said the defendants could be held liable if the Boims could establish that the defendants “aided and abetted” their son’s killing.
In his 107-page ruling last week, Judge Keys went further, arguing that the Boims didn’t have to show that the defendants knew about the attack or did anything to aid it, but merely that they “were involved in an agreement to accomplish an unlawful act and that the attack that killed David Boim was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the conspiracy.”
Landes acknowledged that even though the case started before September 11, “there is no question that a series of government action, rulings and new evidence since then has helped us.”
While both the Holy Land Foundation and Mohamed Salah recently have been indicted for providing material support to Hamas, the decision marks the first time that IAP has been linked to Hamas in a court ruling.
Based in Illinois, the IAP is a nonprofit entity that describes itself as an educational, political and social organization dedicated to Palestinian causes.
Several terrorism experts, chief among them independent investigator Steven Emerson, have for years asserted that the IAP was in fact a Hamas front. In the ruling, the judge seemed to endorse their argument, contending that IAP, a sort of umbrella group involving several entities, including the American Muslim Society, provided material support by paying Hamas leaders to speak at its conferences and distributing Hamas propaganda material — evidence gathered in part by Emerson through undercover taping of IAP conferences during the past decade.
Landes said the linkage between the IAP and Hamas was irrefutable, citing an article in which a Hamas leader described the group as “the first killer of Hamas.”
Jaber countered that the mere fact his group had at times published Hamas literature did not amount to aiding and abetting a terrorist group.
Both he and Piers, Salah’s lawyer, raised concerns about the plaintiff’s use of evidence gathered from classified information, wiretaps and foreign intelligence. Landes noted that such evidence was made more readily available to prosecutors by the Patriot Act adopted by Congress in the weeks following the September 11 attacks, as well as by subsequent regulations.
Asked about the possibility of getting the defendants to pay damages, Landes said that while the IAP and Salah presumably had no money available, some money could be drawn from the frozen assets of the Holy Land Foundation.
In several judgments against state sponsors of terrorism, such as Iran or Libya, the American government has refrained from tapping into frozen assets from those countries for diplomatic reasons. Landes said such arguments could not be made in this case because it targets domestic entities.