U.S. News

U.S. top court takes up fight over ancient Persian artifacts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to decide whether people injured in a 1997 bombing attack in Jerusalem can seek to enforce a $71 million judgment against Iran over its alleged role by seizing ancient Persian artifacts held by two Chicago museums.

The justices will hear the plaintiffs’ appeal of a ruling last year in favor of Iran by the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The court’s ruling in the case is also likely to dictate the outcome of a similar dispute pending before the justices in which four different groups of plaintiffs representing those injured in other allegedly Iran-backed attacks are seeking to enforcement court judgments by seizing $17.6 million in assets held by Iranian government-owned Bank Melli.

At issue is how to determine what assets are immune from seizure under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a federal law that restricts when foreign entities can be sued in U.S. courts.

The long-running Chicago lawsuit arose from a 1997 attack in which three members of the Islamic militant group Hamas blew themselves up in Jerusalem, killing five people. Eight U.S. citizens were injured. They and some of their relatives, including lead plaintiff Jenny Rubin, sued Iran in a U.S. court for its alleged role and obtained a $71.5 million judgment that they then sought to collect on.

They targeted three collections of ancient Persian artifacts including prehistoric pottery, ornaments and precious tablets with Elamite writing held by Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History and the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute. The museums have said they own the artifacts, but the plaintiffs maintain that Iran does. Iran has previously sought return of some of the items.

The court will hear arguments and decide the case in its next term, which begins in October.

In a similar case, the Supreme Court last year ruled that almost $2 billion in frozen Iranian assets must be turned over to American families of people killed in the 1983 truck bombing by Hezbollah militants of a U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut and other attacks blamed on Iran.

Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham