- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 22, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) — The plaintiffs in two U.S. lawsuits accusing Pakistan’s spy chief of nurturing terrorists involved in the 2008 Mumbai attacks are hoping for a historic outcome recalling the Lockerbie settlement, but they would have to overcome serious legal obstacles first, lawyers and experts say.

The civil complaints naming Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha and his Inter-Services Intelligence agency as defendants are like past lawsuits filed in federal courts against overseas figures with alleged links to terrorist attacks and other atrocities.

A lawyer for the U.S. plaintiffs, John Kreindler, said Tuesday that they hope to win a deal like the one struck with Libya over the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The $1.5 billion settlement announced in 2008 was seen both as a victory for the families of 180 Americans killed in the terrorist attack and as a diplomatic breakthrough with the North African nation, once a pariah.

“The hope is to obtain appropriate compensation, but we also see it as a chance for the United States and Pakistan to join together and condemn terrorism,” he said.

“I think our chances are very good,” he added. “We wouldn’t be doing it if it was simply for show.”

But experts say a U.S. court could find that Gen. Pasha, as a high-ranking foreign official, is protected by sovereign immunity. Even when not protected, many international defendants don’t bother to respond to summonses and, as a result, never see the inside of an American courthouse or engage in settlement negotiations.

Judges can hear testimony from the plaintiffs and order damages, but the chances of collecting are a long shot. In some cases, judges have tossed out cases after the U.S. government opposed them on diplomatic grounds.

“Lawsuits like this aren’t highly successful,” said John F. Murphy, a professor at Villanova University School of Law in suburban Philadelphia. “Decisions that have been favorable to the plaintiffs have been largely symbolic.”

In Pakistan, prominent lawyer Athar Minallah said Tuesday that with the U.S. court’s jurisdiction in question, he couldn’t see the litigation getting very far.

“Why should they even bother to respond?” Mr. Minallah said of Gen. Pasha and the ISI.

An ISI representative said Tuesday that Gen. Pasha had received a summons but declined to discuss the case further.

The wrongful death lawsuits were filed last month in federal court in Brooklyn by relatives of victims in the Mumbai attacks, which left 166 people and nine attackers dead. The assault has been blamed on the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is also named as a defendant.

The lawsuits repeat long-standing allegations that the ISI “has long nurtured and used international terrorist groups,” including Lashkar.

“Defendant ISI provided critical planning, material support, control and coordination of the attacks” by a roving band of gunmen who attacked a Jewish community center, a popular restaurant and tourist hotels, the lawsuits allege.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer has said they would not publicly discuss the case. They include the Brooklyn father of Gavriel Holtzberg, a rabbi who was killed along with his pregnant wife at the Jewish center, and the wife of Sandeep Jeswani, a Chicago man who was traveling on business when he was killed at a hotel.

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