US Supreme Court to hear embassy bombings punitive damage claim against Sudan

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The US Supreme Court agreed to hear a bid to reinstate $4.3 billion in punitive damages against Sudan in a lawsuit accusing it of complicity in the 1998 al Qaeda bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people.

The justices took up an appeal by hundreds of people hurt and relatives of people killed in the bombings as they seek to reinstate the punitive damages a lower court in 2017 ruled could not be levied against Sudan in addition to about $6 billion in compensatory damages imposed in the litigation.

Twelve Americans were among the dead in the August 7, 1998, attacks, with thousands wounded.

The damages were imposed by default because for most of the litigation Sudan did not appear to defend itself against allegations it harboured and provided support to the Islamist militant group al Qaeda, which led to the bombings.

The truck bombs detonated outside embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania marked the first large-scale al Qaeda attack. Three years later, on September 11, 2001, al Qaeda operatives crashed hijacked planes into New York’s World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field, killing nearly 3,000 people.

The plaintiffs sued in federal court in Washington under the 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which generally bars claims against foreign countries except those designated by the United States as state sponsors of terrorism, as Sudan has been since 1993. Other claims were made under local District of Columbia law.