The US Supreme Court turned down a bid by family members of 17 sailors killed in the 2000 al Qaeda bombing of the Navy destroyer USS Cole to collect some $35 million in damages from Sudan for its alleged role in the attack, six days after ruling against Americans injured in the attack.
The justices declined to hear the relatives’ appeal of a lower court decision in favour of Sudan. The Richmond, Virginia-based 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the lawsuit had not been properly initiated in 2010 because claims were sent to Sudan’s embassy in Washington instead of to its foreign minister in Khartoum, the African country’s capital.
The high court last Tuesday ruled the improper mailing violated the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a US law governing when foreign governments may be sued in American courts, tossing out more than $314 million (239 million pounds) in damages from Sudan for a group of injured sailors and their spouses.
President Donald Trump’s administration sided with Sudan. It said the United States rejects judicial notices at its embassies abroad and allowing notices to be sent to a foreign embassy in Washington could harm foreign relations and American treatment in foreign courts.
The Virginia lawsuit included 56 spouses, siblings, parents and children of the 17 Americans killed in the Cole attack. They accused Sudan of providing material support to the al Qaeda Islamist militant group, including funding and training, that helped facilitate the bombing. Sudan denied the allegation.
On October 12, 2000, two men in a small boat detonated explosives alongside the Navy guided missile destroyer refuelling in the southern Yemeni port Aden, killing 17 sailors, wounding more than three dozen others and blasting a gaping hole in its hull. The vessel was repaired and later returned to full active duty.
The bombing was11 months before al Qaeda’s September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
Relatives sued under the 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which generally bars suits against foreign countries except those designated by the US as a sponsor of terrorism, as Sudan has been since 1993.
Sudan did not defend against the claims in court. In 2014, a trial judge found Sudan’s aid to al Qaeda “led to the murders” of the 17 Americans and awarded the families about $35 million, including $14 million in punitive damages.
Sudan then sought to void the judgements, arguing the lawsuit was not properly served on its foreign minister, violating notification requirements under US and international law.
The 4th Circuit sided with Sudan last year, but said the families could have another chance to properly serve Sudan’s government with the lawsuit. They did so last October using US diplomatic channels.