Court Awards US Victims More Than $6 Billion for 1989 Libyan Terrorist Bombing of French Airliner That Killed 170 People Over African Desert

Jan 15, 2008, 00:00 ET from Crowell & Moring LLP

    WASHINGTON, Jan. 15 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A federal judge has
 ordered the Government of Libya and six of its officials to pay a total of
 approximately $6 billion in damages arising from the mid-air suitcase
 bombing of a French-operated UTA Flight 772, DC-10 wide-body jet. The 1989
 attack killed 170 people from Europe, Africa and the United States and was
 one of the deadliest terrorist events in commercial aviation history before
 September 11, 2001. It came only nine months after a similar suitcase
 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270
     The case stems from the September 19, 1989 bombing of UTA Flight 772,
 which was flying from N'djamena, Chad to Paris, France when a suitcase bomb
 exploded in the cargo hold at an altitude of 35,000 feet. The aircraft
 crashed into the Tenere Desert in northeastern Niger, killing all 170
 passengers and crew, including seven Americans. Represented by the
 Washington law firm Crowell & Moring LLP, the families of the Americans
 brought suit in federal court, along with the U.S. firm that owned the
 aircraft, pursuant to a 1996 law that stripped terrorist states such as
 Libya of their immunity from suit. Among the seven Americans killed on the
 flight was Bonnie Pugh, the wife of then U.S. Ambassador to Chad, Robert
     Stuart H. Newberger, the lead lawyer for the victim families and a
 senior partner at Crowell & Moring, said, "This award proves that the rule
 of law will always prevail over state-sponsored terrorism. At the end of
 the day, all 170 victims of UTA Flight 772 will be remembered and honored
 by this decision. Indeed, it is because of rulings like this that Libya has
 rejected terrorism and re-joined the civilized nations of the world."
     Shortly after the UTA 772 tragedy, the Libyan regime, under the
 leadership of its leader Colonel Muammar Qaddaffi, came under suspicion as
 the bombing occurred so soon after the Lockerbie tragedy. Following several
 years of intense and detailed investigation, leading French terrorism
 investigator Magistrate Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere, with the assistance of
 the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, issued a detailed report
 concluding that Libya was directly responsible for the bombing.
     Subsequently, in 1999, a French criminal court convicted in absentia
 six Libyan officials for their direct role in the UTA 772 bombing. The six
 convicted officials remain in Libya, which has refused to extradite them to
     Over the last few years, Libya has voluntarily paid several hundred
 million dollars in damages to the European and African victims of the UTA
 772 bombing, mostly through the Qaddaffi Charitable Foundation, which is
 headed by Saif Qaddafi, the leader's Western-educated son. It also paid
 almost $2 billion to settle the Pan Am 103/Lockerbie case, a move which
 helped Libya's efforts to end United Nations sanctions of the country. The
 UTA 772 case decided today in Washington was brought separately from the
 French proceedings and settlements because the U.S. victims have the right
 to sue state sponsors of terrorism as well as government officials -- a
 right which the European and African victims do not have.
     Court Order
     The court order issued today was the result of a case first filed in
 the Washington, D.C. federal court in 2002. In April of last year, after
 several years of legal delays by Libya, U.S. District Judge Henry H.
 Kennedy ruled that Libya was directly responsible for the UTA 772 bombing,
 basing his decision on detailed and mostly undisputed evidence from both
 the French criminal case as well as information provided by the U.S.
 Department of State. The U.S. Government has supported the U.S. victims in
 the case and through quiet diplomatic efforts with the Libyan Government.
     In August of last year, Judge Kennedy conducted a three-day trial to
 determine the amount of damages Libya and its officials must pay the
 families and the owner of the aircraft. Significantly, this is the first
 case ever decided in which the terrorist state appeared in court and had
 attorneys defend the case through final judgment. Libya's decision to
 appear in court and defend the case was based in part on its
 well-publicized abandonment of terrorism and nuclear weapon development, as
 well its desire to engage the United States and the European Union on
 political and commercial levels. It was on that basis that President Bush
 removed Libya from the "state sponsor of terrorism list" in 2006 and
 restored diplomatic relations for the first time in decades, a decision
 which followed earlier actions to lift United Nations' sanctions and other
 commercial restrictions on the Qaddaffi regime.
     The rapid improvement in U.S.-Libya relations was demonstrated just
 this month when Libyan Foreign Minister Abdel Rahman Mohammed Shalgam
 became the first high-ranking Libyan official to visit Washington in over
 36 years. In addition to meetings with Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice,
 Shalgam met with a number of CEOs from some of the largest U.S. companies
 doing business with Libya. Commerce between U.S. companies and Libya
 amounted to several billion dollars just last year, an amount that is
 likely to increase greatly. As the direct result of the president's lifting
 of economic sanctions, most major U.S. oil companies are now paying
 billions of dollars in fees and royalties directly to the Libyan Government
 for oil and gas concessions, and Libya itself is spending hundreds of
 millions of dollars in the U.S. for equipment, materials, and services.
     John Metzger, a member of the law firm McDonald Hopkins and counsel for
 Interlease, Inc., the American firm that owned the DC-10 aircraft, said,
 "The day of accountability for Libya has been a long time coming. We are
 grateful that the court has determined that Libya committed this terrorist
 act. While nothing will bring back these loved ones, this decision makes
 clear that terrorism is not only abhorrent, but hits the terrorist state
 where it hurts -- in their pocketbook."
     Libya has not announced whether it will appeal the court order, but
 will have until February 25 in which to make that decision. It has already
 acknowledged to President Bush that it will honor U.S. court judgments as
 part of the new relationship with the United States. In the absence of a
 settlement of the judgment, the growing commerce between Libya and these
 U.S. companies will be subject to compulsory court attachment to satisfy
 the award.
     To read a copy of the U.S. District Court decision, visit the full
 release at

SOURCE Crowell & Moring LLP