A federal judge yesterday ordered Iran to pay $42 million to the family of a U.S. Agency for International Development officer executed by Hezbollah militants during the 1984 hijacking of a Kuwait Airlines flight. It was the latest in a series of verdicts against the Iranian government related to its support of terrorism.
U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. awarded the family of Charles Hegna, an auditor for AID, damages stemming from the Dec. 4, 1984, hijacking of Kuwait Airlines Flight 221. The plane was en route from Kuwait City to Karachi, Pakistan, when it was stormed by Hezbollah militants. Hezbollah has been found in this and other court cases to be underwritten by Iran.
The terrorists forced the plane to land in Tehran. They conducted a search of passengers' passports, and, once they determined Hegna, 50, was an American, they dragged the Sterling resident from his seat. He was threatened, beaten and shot in the abdomen. He was then shoved from the airplane door, falling to the tarmac.
"For many years afterward, it seemed as if people didn't even know this happened," said Edwena Hegna, the victim's widow, who now lives in Arizona. "It was such a pain in my heart that my husband seemed forgotten. We're excited by this judgment, but we know it's not the end of it. We hope Congress will do their part in enforcing it."
Iran has been listed by the State Department as the world's biggest sponsor of terrorism for several years, and a 1996 amendment to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act has made it possible for survivors of terrorist assaults to sue their tormentors in U.S. courts.
Iran has not responded to any of the suits, and default judgments are usually entered as a matter of course. But pursuing the blocked assets of that nation becomes an international affair that requires congressional action and presidential approval. In only a few cases have those hurdles been cleared and payments made.