For almost 17 years, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner and her legal team of 10 at the nongovernmental organization Shurat HaDin, known as the Israel Law Center in Tel Aviv, have managed to achieve the seemingly inconceivable: successfully sue — and successfully collect — hundreds of millions of dollars from terrorist groups and governments on behalf of victims’ families.
“We have sued groups such as ISIS, Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority and have worked on cases involving the Japanese Red Army and the Kurdish PKK,” Darshan-Leitner told Fox News. “We have received judgments against North Korea several times and we have many judgments against Iran and Syria for their involvement in international terrorism. If they are not held accountable, they become further emboldened. And for the victims, it is a little closure and justice.”
Ultimately, the powerhouse lawyer digs deep to find as many legal loopholes as possible.
“We try to focus on entities and individuals and rogue regimes that provide it material support and resources. Even then it is very hard to nail down. ISIS moves funds through Islamic ‘Halawa’ money transfers. These are informal networks of money changers who will move sums internationally between branches in neighborhoods of Islamic countries, for a small percentage,” Darshan-Leitner explained. “This dark banking system, which is not plugged into the official international banking system can move funds around virtually undetected. It is a relentless struggle, but we are confident that if we continue to pursue groups like ISIS we can learn a lot about their finances and partners.” While going precisely after ISIS is a near-impossible feat given the covert nature of its operatives in Iraq, Syria and scattered through western countries, Leitner instead goes after the individuals and businesses who — directly or indirectly — fund them from banks to oil exporters to charities and most recently, social media conglomerates.
As such, the firm’s focus has been to go after those individuals and businesses located in Western states that “aid and abet” the black-clad jihadist army in violation of international antiterrorism laws, which includes social media platforms. “YouTube provides ISIS with the ability to post its videos and disseminate its messages, and Twitter provides the terror group services,” Darshan-Leitner contended. “Western law enforcement agencies have already determined that several of the deadly ISIS attacks in Europe were perpetuated by terrorists who organized via their social media accounts. Where would ISIS be today if they weren’t able to post beheading videos and recruitment propaganda? How would teens know how to contact them or travel to Syria to join them?”
Darshan-Leitner has to-date filed suits against Facebook, Google — the owner of YouTube — and Twitter on behalf of ISIS and Hamas victims. The cases, initially filed in New York courts, largely have been moved to California at the request of the mostly Palo Alto-based enterprises. “The social media companies are liable as they violated U.S. law in providing material support and resources,” she said. “Clearly, these companies with their sophisticated technology and logarithms which allow them to know everything about their users’ likes and dislikes, have the capabilities to identify and block the terror groups and block the calls to violence.”
And when it comes to suing governments, Darshan-Leitner has had scores of judgments against the regimes of Iran and Syria for “their involvement in international terrorism and support of groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas” in legal standing of Americans killed or wounded in the Middle East. “Iran and Syria continue to be the largest state sponsors of international terrorism. They provide the finances, training, weapons, safe houses and ideology,” she claimed. “We are very persistent in continuing to file suits against them and we try to locate Iranian and Syrian assets that we can try to seize to enforce our judgments. It is a war of attrition, and we will continue to pursue these outlaw regimes on behalf of the terror victims and their families.”
On that note, Darshan-Leitner is now deep in a $67 million judgment against U.S.-based Boeing, representing the American Leibovitch family — who lost their seven-year-old child to a 2003 Iran-connected terror attack — over the flight giant’s contentious deal with Tehran. Following the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — commonly called the “Iran Deal” — the previously pariah nation entered into an agreement with Boeing to purchase some $20 billion in aircraft. Darshan-Leitner wants all the information on how and where the money is going to be exposed, but Boeing has asserted that disclosing the details of the transaction would be an obstruction of a U.S. foreign policy and has fought resolutely to keep the details secret.
Earlier this month, a Chicago federal court ordered the Trump administration to file a statement by October 12 notifying the court if the government concurs that unveiling the details of the Boeing deal will interfere with Iranian-U.S. foreign policy. Boeing declined to comment further on the matter. Given that Iran and Syria are the only official state sponsors of terror listed in the United States, along with Sudan, suits against them can be filed in American courts. But with other regimes such as North Korea, the process is more complicated and must be filed outside the U.S given that the hermit country was quietly removed from the list in 2008, granting them sovereign immunity and thus they cannot be sued by U.S citizens.
Prior to that, Darshan-Leitner successfully represented American citizens in three historic multimillion dollar verdicts against the regime in Pyongyang. She won a monumental $30 million judgment on behalf of the family of Kim Dong-shik, a U.S. resident and Christian missionary kidnapped in 2000 and murdered in North Korea by the regime. In 2006, she won a case for Hezbollah rocket attack victims after a U.S. federal court determined that North Korea was liable for providing support to Hezbollah, along with a case in a San Juan Puerto Rico court involving the 1972 Lod Airport attack in which a court ruled North Korea trained and funded terrorists. “We continue to look for elusive North Korean assets. They conduct little trade and commerce and so going after their assets in order to enforce our judgments is difficult, so we are trying to be very diligent in our efforts to locate those who are illegally trading with North Korea or providing it an type of services or goods that can be seized,” the attorney continued, adding that North Korea ought to be placed once again as a state sponsor of terror so that other victims’ families, such as Otto Warmbier’s parents, can target them directly.
Darshan-Leitner, who was born and raised in Israel in a time when one could not even “walk the streets” for fear of an attack, said that she could not “sit idly” and sees it as her lifelong mission to bring terrorists and their backers to justice. “We see our efforts, utilizing lawsuits and court systems to counter the terrorists as an important part of the effort to obstruct. Western governments are shackled by treaties, domestic restraints and political correctness and have trouble doing what needs to be done to target and destroy terror groups,” she added. “We are private attorneys representing private terror victims. Once a group like ISIS crosses the line of all civilized behavior, they have to be battled until they are destroyed. Or they will return and come back at us.”