Parents of teen slain by Hamas can sue fund-raising groups
CHICAGO — The parents of an American teen-ager killed in Israel by Islamic militants can use a never-tested law to sue U.S. fund-raising groups accused of contributing to the terrorists, a federal appeals court has ruled.
The case involves an unsettled First Amendment issue concerning people’s right to associate freely with groups by donating money to them.
The June 5 decision by a three-member panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago was a victory for the parents of David Boim, who have filed a $300 million lawsuit, and may help lawsuits filed by victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“We’re obviously very gratified by the court’s decision,” said Nathan Lewin, an attorney for Joyce and Stanley Boim, whose son, David, was killed by Hamas militants on the West Bank in 1996. “It should be taken as a warning to any contributors to an organization that supports terrorism that if there is an American victim, he can sue the contributors and recover huge damages in an American court.”
The decision marks the first time a federal appeals court has ruled on the provisions of the 1992 federal Anti-Terrorism Act, which allows for the recovery of damages due to acts of terrorism.
“It’s a notable decision both for the fact that it addresses a very interesting and largely unsettled free-speech issue and it arises in the context of lots of terrorist acts taking place,” said Jesse Chopper, law professor at the University of California at Berkeley.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit are Quranic Literacy Institute, which is based in of Oak Lawn, Ill., and the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, based in Richardson, Texas. The Holy Land Foundation has offices in Palos Hills, Ill. Also named is Mohammed Abdul Hamid Khalil Salah, a Bridgeview, Ill., resident who served five years in an Israeli prison for funneling funds to Hamas.
The groups have said there is no way they could have known that any money they contributed to organizations on the West Bank would be used in the Boim shooting. They appealed a judge’s decision last year not to throw out the lawsuit, arguing that under the law only the people who actually commit the terrorist acts can be sued.
But the panel disagreed. “Civil liability for funding a foreign terrorist organization does not offend the First Amendment so long as the plaintiffs are able to prove that the defendants knew the organization’s illegal activity,” wrote U.S. Circuit Judge Ilana Diamond Rovner in an opinion joined by judges Terence T. Evans and Diane P. Wood.
John Beal, an attorney representing the Quranic Literacy Institute, which translates Islamic texts for distribution in the United States, said no decision had been made on whether to ask the full 7th Circuit to hear the case or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Beal said his clients denied ever funding Hamas. The Holy Land Foundation, whose offices were raided and closed by the U.S. Treasury Department in December during a terrorism investigation, could not be reached for comment. But the group has denied supporting terrorism, saying it raises funds for humanitarian and disaster relief.
Salah couldn’t be reached for comment because he has an unlisted phone number.