Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Rome Bombing Victims Must Rely on Italian Law

(CN) - Two U.S. permanent residents who survived the 1985 Rome airport bombings cannot sue alleged terrorist supporters Syria and Libya under U.S. law, a federal judge ruled.

On Dec. 27, 1985, Bruno and Armando Pepenella, both U.S. permanent residents, were traveling from Rome back to the U.S. with their mother, Elena Tommarello, a U.S. citizen.

That day, a Palestinian splinter group called the Abu Nidal Organization attacked flight terminals in Rome and Vienna. The gunmen in Rome attacked an Israeli airline counter, and Mrs. Tommarello was caught in the crossfire.

The lower half of Mrs. Tommarello's body was "shattered" from the waist down, and she died at the hospital early the next day, according to an order filed in January.

In court, the Pepenella brothers sought damages from Libya and Syria, alleged supporters of the terrorists, for emotional distress and conspiracy.

U.S. District Judge John Facciola found Wednesday that the brothers may not sue under U.S. law.

"Although the victim, their mother, was a U.S. national, they were not at the time of the attack," the ruling states. "Thus, while the U.S. arguably has an interest in applying its domestic law to its aggrieved domiciliaries, that interest is diminished when those domiciliaries are not U.S. nationals."

Facciola distinguished this case from other terrorism cases, because "there is no evidence in the record that the U.S. or its nationals were the specific object of Abu Nidal's attack on the Rome Airport in 1985."

The Pepenellas can submit a supplemental brief explaining how they may be entitled to damages under Italian law, according to the ruling.

"Italy has both a strong governmental interest in deterring attacks within its sovereign borders and the most significant relationship to the attack in that 1) the attack occurred Rome, the Italian capital, and 2) Khaled Ibrahim, one of the terrorists involved in the Rome Airport attack, was convicted in an Italian court and is serving a life sentence in an Italian prison for his role in the attack," Facciola wrote.

Last month, in a related case, the D.C. Circuit revived a case filed by another victim of the 1985 bombings against similar defendants.

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.