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Aiding Kidnappers Will Cost Syria $338 Million

(CN) - Two American archaeologists who were held captive in the Turkish wilderness while searching for the remnants of Noah's Ark can recoup $338 million from their captor's sponsor, Syria, a federal judge ruled.

Marvin Wilson and Ronald Wyatt were part of an archaeological group driving through the mountains of Ararat in August 1991 when they fell into the hands of the Kurdistan Workers Party, a Turkish terrorist group also known as the PKK.

Wilson has testified that they were "research[ing] a location where [they] believed remnants of the biblical Noah's Ark resides." He also said the Turkish government gave them permission to excavate the area, and that a British aerospace company gave them a funding guaranty.

The armed PKK gunmen let all of the non-Western travelers, including their tour guide, go free, but it marched Wilson, Wyatt and their companions from the United States and Great Britain through the Turkish wilderness.

Wilson estimates that they marched for at least 25 miles through icy wind, in soaking wet clothes, during a 21-day captivity.

Wilson and Wyatt returned home, but Wyatt died of cancer in 1999. His estate filed suit with Wyatt in 2001 against the PKK and the Syrian Arab Republic under the updated state-sponsored terrorism exception of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act as its sponsor.

A federal judge dismissed PKK from the case because the plaintiffs failed to serve them with process, and the clerk entered default against Syria when it failed to answer the complaint.

At a 2012 evidentiary hearing, expert witness Dr. Marius Deeb testified that the Syrian government provided 95 percent of the PKK's funding - an estimated $10 million per year - during the years immediately preceding the kidnapping. Dr. Matthew Levitt also testified that the PKK's activities along the Syrian-Turkish border around that time would have been impossible without Syrian support.

Chief U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth entered final judgment against Syria on Monday and ordered it to pay Wilson and Wyatt's estate $338 million.

"Here, plaintiffs' evidence, reviewed above, shows that Syria provided a variety of forms of material support to the PKK, including: (1) weapons and ammunition; (2) financial assistance; (3) safe haven and shelter in Syria to PKK leadership; and (4) terrorist training by members of the Syrian armed forces and intelligence agencies," the 27-page ruling states. "This support falls squarely within the definition of 'material support or resources.'"

The Washington, D.C., judge further held that Syria directly contributed to Wyatt and Wilson's injuries.

"The physical and psychological injuries suffered by Ronald Wyatt and Marvin Wilson during the kidnapping which endured for long after the kidnapping was over plainly have a reasonable connection to Syria's material support of the PKK," Lamberth wrote. "These injuries are direct consequences of the abuse these men were subjected to at the hands of the PKK-an organization armed, funded and otherwise supported by Syria."

Lamberth also approved the claims for emotional distress.

"By bankrolling and otherwise supporting a terrorist organization responsible for the kidnapping [of] Marvin Wilson and Ronald Wyatt, Syria did act recklessly to cause severe emotional distress to their family members," he wrote.

The court was not persuaded, however, that the kidnapping harmed the plaintiffs economically.

"As to (i) medical costs, plaintiffs have failed to introduce any evidence of what costs specifically were incurred," Lamberth wrote. As to (ii) the lost business opportunity of developing a Noah's Ark tourist park in Turkey, this is simply too speculative to credit. And, as to (iii) the failure to be reimbursed for travel expenses, plaintiffs failed to introduce any evidence supporting this claim."

Wyatt's widow also failed to trace her husband's sickness to the kidnapping, according to the ruling. She had claimed that the financial hardship caused Wyatt to defer seeking timely treatment, and the "intense stress" he was under after the abduction "helped to cause his cancer to grow and spread more quickly."

The court awarded $5 million each to Wilson and Wyatt for pain and suffering damages, $4 million to each of their wives, and $2.5 million each to all other family member plaintiffs.

"The brutal character of the kidnapping in this case, the significant harm it caused both the hostage plaintiffs and their families, along with Syria's demonstrated and well known policy to encourage terrorism all merit an award of punitive damages," the ruling concludes.

Founded in the late 1970s and based in Turkey, the Kurdistan Workers Party seeks to establish an independent Kurdish state through acts of terrorism, including a violent insurgency that killed 22,000. The U.S. government designated the group as a terror organization in 1997.

Last week, the Council of the European Union implemented a regulation that named the PKK as an entity subject to specific restrictive measures with a view to combating terrorism.

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