A Portland lawyer is suing the government of Syria over the kidnapping, torture and deaths of two American soldiers in Iraq.

The suit, filed Tuesday by F.R. Jenkins in federal court in Washington, D.C., alleges that the government of Syria, President Bashar al-Assad and Syrian intelligence agencies provided aid to the Islamic State of Iraq, a terrorist organization that kidnapped the two soldiers in June 2007.

The suit says Army Staff Sgt. Alex R. Jimenez and Specialist Byron W. Fouty were taken from an observation post near Mahmudiyah, Iraq, and tortured, and that their bodies were found more than a year later. Jimenez’s parents live in New York and Massachusetts and Fouty’s mother lives in Texas.

F.R. Jenkins

The suit seeks hundreds of millions of dollars from Syria – $18 million on each of seven counts, including conspiracy and aiding and abetting a terrorist organization, plus $425 million in punitive and other damages on two additional counts.

Jenkins has won other major lawsuits against Syria, including a $25 billion judgment in 2013. That suit said the Syrian government sponsored attacks in 1985 at airports in Rome and Vienna that killed 19 and injured 107. In a 2016 case, his clients were awarded nearly $350 million on behalf of two Americans killed in hotel bombings in Jordan in 2005.

Jenkins, who heads the Meridian 361 law firm, has lived in Portland for more than 10 years. His suits have to be filed in federal court in Washington because of a federal law that gives that court jurisdiction in cases involving foreign governments.

Jenkins said his interest in suing state sponsors of terrorism followed the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103, which was blown up over Scotland, killing 259 people on the plane and 11 on the ground in the town of Lockerbie. Jenkins was spending a semester abroad in London at the time and knew some of the American students who were killed.

“That impacted me, and this is the work I’ve ended up doing,” he said. “It’s an important way to achieve some level of accountability for these victims. It’s important they have their day in court … to hold the states accountable is an important exercise.”

Jenkins said pursuing the cases presents varying degrees of difficulty, primarily based on how vigorously the foreign governments defend themselves.

In some cases the governments have presented a full defense, and “in some cases they haven’t shown up at all, and in some cases only after the judgment,” he said.

Jenkins said collecting on judgments can be the most difficult task. Judgment payouts are often settled as part of the overall diplomatic process between the U.S. and the countries he sues. In one case, the foreign government set up a claims fund for victims.

The U.S. also operates a claims fund financed by the proceeds of sanctions against foreign governments. No U.S. funds are used to compensate victims, he said.

Because the latest suit was just filed, Syria hasn’t responded yet. Jenkins said he’s unsure how vigorously Syria’s government will defend itself in court.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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