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US Judge Orders Iran To Pay $25M For IDF Soldier's Murder

First Posted: 04/27/09 06:12 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 02:10 PM ET

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A U.S. judge on Friday ordered Iran to pay $25 million plus interest to the family of Israeli soldier Nachshon Wachsman, who was kidnapped and executed by Hamas in 1994.

Wachsman was a 19-year-old U.S. citizen and Israeli army corporal when he was taken by four members of Hamas, designated a terrorist organization by the United States. His abduction damaged Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations at the time, as he pleaded on videotape for his life.

Wachsman's mother and six brothers filed the lawsuit in 2006 against Iran and its ministry of information and security, saying Tehran was responsible for the death because it provided training and support to Hamas. Iran has refused to respond to the lawsuit, resulting in a default judgment in favor of Wachsman's family.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina awarded $5 million to Wachsman's mother and $2.5 million to each brother for their emotional distress, and $5 million to Wachsman's estate for his potential lost earnings and the pain and suffering he endured for six days while he was held hostage before being executed. The court also ruled that Iran should pay 6 percent annual interest from the date of Wachsman's murder nearly 15 years ago.

"It is unclear if the family will get any of the money," said Michael Jacobson, a former senior adviser in the Treasury Department's office of terrorism and financial intelligence.

"It's been historically pretty difficult to collect against those types of cases," said Jacobson, now a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. But he noted that the courts could seize any assets of Iranian entities in the United States to help pay a judgment.

Wachsman was abducted by four members of Hamas on October 9, 1994, as he waited on the side of a public street near the central Israeli city of Lod for a ride to visit a friend. The kidnappers wore black hats and yarmulkes as disguises that allowed them to lure Wachsman into their rented van, which had Israeli license plates.

The abductors blindfolded and bound Wachsman, then took him to a safe house in Bir Nabala, an Arab village just north of Jerusalem, where they videotaped him with his identification card and Israeli army-issued M-16 rifle. They demanded the release of the jailed Hamas leader and 200 other Muslim fundamentalist prisoners by Oct. 14, 1994, in exchange for Wachsman's life.

On video, Wachsman urged Israel to meet the kidnappers' demands. "If not, they will kill me," he said. "I ask you to do all you can so I get out of here alive."

The kidnapping increased tensions between Israel and Palestine, with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin cutting off peace negotiations and telling Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat that he was holding him personally responsible for the soldier's safe return.

Israeli security forces captured one of the abductors, who told them where Wachsman was being held. An Israeli commando unit raided the safe house shortly before the deadline on Oct. 14, and as they attempted to blow down heavily fortified doors with explosives, the kidnappers shot Wachsman. An Israeli soldier and all three remaining kidnappers were killed in an ensuing fire fight.

The court found that several of the Hamas members instrumental in Wachsman's abduction and execution either received terrorist training by Iran's Revolutionary Guard or were related to those who received the training.

"The financial support, tactical training and political direction that Iran provided to Hamas proximately caused the abduction and execution of Nachshon," Urbina concluded.

Wachsman was born in Jerusalem, but was a citizen of the United States. His mother is a U.S. citizen who moved from New York City to Israel in the late 1960s, and his brothers are all dual citizens of the United States and Israel.

The court says it can issue a ruling against Iran from Washington for several reasons, including that this case involves a hostage taking of a U.S. citizen; that the plaintiffs are U.S. citizens; and that similar conduct by U.S. agents within the United States could be subject to a similar lawsuit.

The Wachsman family details in court filings how they have struggled with his violent and public death, with his mother diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and on medication and one brother having attempted suicide three times in his grief.

The family also presented evidence that Wachsman, six months out of high school at the time of his death, planned to become a doctor one day. That led to a $3 million judgment for his lost earnings alone.

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Filed by Jessica Gusman  |