In a ruling that may be largely symbolic, a federal judge has ordered the government of Iran to pay $327 million to the families of a New Jersey woman and a Connecticut man who were killed in a 1996 terrorist bombing in Israel.
Whether the families of the victims, Sara Duker, who was 23, and Matthew Eisenfeld, 25, ever see any of the money depends on several factors, including whether legislation allowing the families to seize Iranian assets in the United States is approved, and whether the Clinton administration, which has blocked the families' efforts, reverses its position that those efforts are counter to greater national interests.
Yesterday, Mr. Eisenfeld's father, Dr. Leonard Eisenfeld, and lawyers involved in his and similar cases, said they were concerned about the government's admission that the Treasury Department had destroyed documents being sought by lawyers in an effort to locate Iranian assets in the United States.
The documents, which the government said were inadvertently destroyed during a renovation and downsizing of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Asset Control in Washington, involved more than 800 licensing applications to do business in the United States.
Dr. Eisenfeld, a neonatal specialist in West Hartford, Conn., said he was encouraged by Tuesday's ruling, issued by Judge Royce C. Lamberth in United States District Court in Washington, but not joyful.
''I always have mixed feelings because for this particular issue I don't like to be in the public eye,'' he said. ''On the other hand, the issue is worth it to deter terrorism and it's something that my family and Sara Duker's family are interested in.''
Dr. Eisenfeld said he did not understand the government's opposition to the case. ''To me it seems like almost a no-brainer that if countries are doing terrorist activities in order to advance their political agenda, that we cut off their economic resources to block their future terrorist activities.''
Sara Duker's mother, Arlene Duker, could not be reached for comment yesterday, but her lawyer, Thomas Fortune Fay, said he was happy about the ruling, despite the uncertainties surrounding it.
Ms. Duker, who lived in Teaneck, N.J., and Mr. Eisenfeld were among 25 people who died in a suicide bombing of a Jerusalem bus on Feb. 25, 1996. Hamas, an Iranian-backed terrorist group, has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Charles Miller, the Justice Department spokesman for the case, was not available for comment yesterday, his office said, and the State and Treasury Departments did not return telephone calls.
Administration officials have voiced concern that in addition to complicating relations between the two countries, allowing individuals to claim Iranian diplomatic property could invite similar claims on United States property abroad.Continue reading the main story