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Iran responsible for 1983 Marine barracks bombing, judge rules

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Marines search through the rubble for their missing comrades after the 1983 barracks bombing in Beirut, Lebanon.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Iran is responsible for the 1983 suicide bombing of a U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, that killed 241 American servicemen, a U.S. District Court judge ruled Friday.

U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth said the suicide truck bombing was carried out by the group Hezbollah with the approval and funding of Iran's senior government officials.

Lamberth ordered that the plaintiffs in the case -- the servicemen wounded in that bombing and the families of those killed -- have a "right to obtain judicial relief" from Iran. The judge called the October 23, 1983 bombing "the most deadly state-sponsored terrorist attack made against United States citizens before September 11, 2001."

"In the early morning hours of that day, 241 American servicemen were murdered in their sleep by a suicide bomber," he wrote. "On that day, an unspeakable horror invaded the lives of those who survived the attack and the family members whose loved ones had been stolen from them."

The court will determine compensatory damages after reviewing reports submitted by "special masters" appointed by the court for claims resolution. Lamberth also wrote in his ruling that he would "take under advisement" the possibility of awarding punitive damages.

Two separate suits were filed in 2001; Lamberth considered the two together. Both suits sought claims for wrongful death, battery, assault and "intentional infliction of emotional distress resulting from state-sponsored terrorism."

Noting that Iran was served with the lawsuits in 2002 but failed to file any responses, Lamberth wrote that the court entered default judgments against the defendants in last December but was required to study the matter further under federal law regarding lawsuits against other countries.

From the subsequent bench trial, Lamberth concluded that Hezbollah was formed under the auspices of the Iranian government, was completely reliant on Iran in 1983 and assisted Iranian Ministry of Information and Security agents in carrying out the operation.

Hezbollah, or Party of God, is based in Lebanon and has waged a campaign for 18 years against Israel's occupation of southern Lebanon as a self-declared security zone. Israel withdrew its forces from Lebanon two years ago, but maintains a heavy military presence on Israel's northern frontier.

Hezbollah is blamed for anti-Western and anti-Israeli terrorist acts dating from the early 1980s and is on the U.S. State Department's official list of terrorist organizations.

A key point in determining the plaintiffs' eligibility to recover damages was the issue of whether the Marines were engaged in combat in their mission to Lebanon. Lamberth said the bulk of the evidence pointed clearly to a peacekeeping mission operating on stringent peacetime rules of engagement.

"As pointed out during trial, the (Marines) were more restricted in their use of force than an ordinary U.S. citizen walking down a street in Washington, D.C.," the judge wrote.

Lamberth wrote that the court had no power to "heal the pain that has become a permanent part of the lives" of the family members.

"But the court can take steps that will punish the men who carried out this unspeakable attack, and in so doing, try to achieve some small measure of justice for its survivors, and for the family members of the 241 Americans who never came home," he wrote.

The lawsuit was filed under a 1996 U.S. law that allows Americans to sue nations that the State Department considers sponsors of terrorism for damages suffered in terrorist acts.

Several Americans have won judgments against Iran and other countries named as sponsors of terrorism, but the U.S. government has been reluctant to seize foreign assets to pay the judgments, fearing international retaliation, according to a report by The Associated Press.



Copyright 2003 CNN. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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