US justices cast doubt over Hamas bomb victims’ claim to Iran artifacts
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US justices cast doubt over Hamas bomb victims’ claim to Iran artifacts

Judges express skepticism that five US citizens maimed in 1997 Jerusalem bombing can use act to seize items from Chicago museums

The Robert and Deborah Aliber Persian Gallery at the University of Chicago. (screen capture: Oriental Museum Virtual Tour, University of Chicago)
The Robert and Deborah Aliber Persian Gallery at the University of Chicago. (screen capture: Oriental Museum Virtual Tour, University of Chicago)

The US Supreme Court indicated it could prevent survivors of a 1997 terrorist attack in Israel from seizing Persian artifacts at Chicago museums to help pay a $71.5 million default judgment against Iran.

The justices heard arguments Monday in an appeal from US victims of a Jerusalem suicide bombing. They want to go after artifacts at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History and the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute.

Several justices sounded skeptical that the survivors could invoke a provision of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act in their quest.

That federal law generally protects foreign countries’ property in the US but makes exceptions when countries provide support to extremist groups.

The victims say Iran provided training and support to Hamas, which carried out the attack. Iran refuses to pay the court judgment.

The case stems from a 1997 suicide bombing in Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall n September 4, 1997 that was carried out by three Hamas suicide bombers, killing five Israelis.

An Israeli man carries an injured woman from the scene of a triple Palestinian suicide bombing in Jerusalem on September 4, 1997. (photo credit: Flash90)
An Israeli man carries an injured woman from the scene of a triple Palestinian suicide bombing in Jerusalem on September 4, 1997. (photo credit: Flash90)

Five US citizens injured in the attack won a $71.5 million civil judgment against Iran because it provided material support and training to Hamas.

Among the artifacts are a collection of 2,500-year-old clay tablets bearing ancient cuneiform script which have been in the care of the University of Chicago since the 1930s.

The victims also seek to seize a collection of artifacts at the Field Museum which were purchased in 1945 from German archaeologist Ernst Herzfeld.

Iran does not claim ownership of the collection, but the victims have argued that they do in fact belong to Iran because Herzfeld stole them and smuggled them out of the country.

The issue will be heard by the US Supreme Court in its next annual session beginning in October.

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