NORFOLK, Va. — A federal judge for the second time has found Sudan liable for the 2000 attack on the Navy destroyer USS Cole in Yemen that killed 17 sailors and this time will consider awarding the victims' families millions of dollars more in damages.
"Clearly, Sudan was involved," U.S. Senior District Judge Robert G. Doumar said at the hearing Tuesday to determine liability.
Now, the question remains as to how much money the judge will order Sudan to pay family members of the 17 sailors. The money will come from Sudanese assets seized by the U.S. government.
Al-Qaida suicide bombers pulled up to the Norfolk-based Cole the morning of Oct. 12, 2000, at the port of Aden in Yemen and detonated a bomb that blew a hole in the side of the ship, killing 17 sailors and injuring 42 others.
The deceased victims' families sued Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism. Counterterrorism and security experts laid out how Sudan's government directly supported al-Qaida in planning and carrying out the attack. Sudan never responded to the suit.
Doumar already has awarded 33 family members a share of $13 million, ruling three years ago that Sudan provided support to the terrorists. Doumar, however, declined then to award hundreds of millions more in punitive damages, but that ruling was overturned on appeal and the case sent back. The family members, increased by the appeals court to about 60, are seeking more than $200 million.
Andrew Hall of Florida, one of the attorneys for the families, said his team has so far uncovered only about $50 million in remaining Sudanese assets in American-based banks, but he is hoping to find more. Doumar said he will decide damages in the coming months.
The families will have to share whatever amount is recovered with 18 plaintiffs in a related case in the Washington, D.C., court brought by 15 sailors injured in the attack and three of their spouses. A judge there awarded them $314 million in 2012.
Lorrie Triplett, whose husband was killed in the attack, and Mona Gunn, whose son also was killed, sat through Tuesday's proceeding. They said they continue to worry about protection of the military.
"I don't know if the level of protection is there today. It's more so, yes," said Gunn. "Then I think about the sailor killed at the base. You never know."