Firm News & Announcements

Victims of September 1986 Hijacking Of Pan Am 73 File $10 Billion Suit Against Libya

Washington, D.C. – April 5, 2006: One hundred seventy-six passengers, estates, and family members who were victims of the September 5, 1986 terrorist hijacking of Pan Am Flight 73 in Karachi, Pakistan filed suit today against Libya and the individuals convicted of launching the attack. The Pan Am 73 terrorist attack killed 20 passengers and crew and severely injured more than 100 of the 380 persons on board.

The lawsuit was filed by the law firm Crowell & Moring LLP in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and seeks $10 billion in compensatory damages, as well as unspecified punitive damages, from Libya, its long-time leader, Muammar Qadhafi, and the five convicted terrorists, all of whom were members of the notorious terrorist group Abu Nidal Organization (ANO). Coming together from across the globe, the victims and family members who brought suit include the estates of 13 people murdered in the attack, 32 of their family members, and 131 other passengers and crew.

The hijackers had intended to fly the jumbo jet to Israel and crash it into the city of Tel Aviv. However, the pilots were alerted to the attack by the crew, and were able to escape by climbing out of the cockpit using emergency ropes. Without pilots, the hijackers could not get the aircraft off the ground.

The result was a terrifying 16 hour drama of killings, torture, and bravery. When the hijackers demanded that all passengers produce their passports, several crew members hid the passports of the Americans to protect those passengers who were the immediate targets. During the tense hours inside the large aircraft, the terrorists shot and killed an American citizen, heaved his body out of the plane's door onto the tarmac, and threatened to kill another passenger every ten minutes if their demands were not met. As the aircraft's power failed and the lights went out, the hijackers recited a martyrdom prayer, opened fire on the passengers with automatic weapons at point blank range, and threw hand grenades into the tightly packed group. In addition to the 20 passengers and crew who were killed, many more were severely maimed, blinded, or disfigured by bullets, grenades, and shrapnel. Several victims broke their legs and arms when they hit the tarmac after jumping from the doors to escape the bullets and explosives.

The five hijackers were convicted by the Pakistani courts for their roles in the attack. The leader of the hijackers on the plane, Zaid Safarini, was captured by the FBI when he was released from prison in Pakistan, and was brought to the United States for trial. On December 16, 2003, Safarini pled guilty in Washington, D.C. federal district court and was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences plus 25 years, which he is serving in a Colorado federal prison. The four other terrorists remain in Pakistani jails, and the United States has attempted to extradite them for prosecution in Washington, D.C. The United States government has publicly stated that Libya provided ANO with material support for the hijacking and also ordered the attack as part of its terrorist campaign against American, European, and Israeli interests.

Surviving passenger Jay Grantier, a resident of the state of Washington, said, “This was an attack on America. The terrorists murdered their first victim because he was an American, and when they ordered the cabin crew to collect all our passports, it was pretty obvious that they intended to kill more of us in the hours to come.”

California resident and surviving passenger Nikita Patel was traveling from India to New York with her father, Surendra, on Pan Am Flight 73 when it was hijacked. Both were American citizens; Nikita was only 12 years old and Surendra had just celebrated his 50th birthday. The ANO hijackers shot Surendra as Nikita and her sister sat in the seats next to him. Surendra left behind a wife and three children. “I have had to live with the grief that comes from losing my father. I was too young to fight back then, but I can fight now. We can fight for justice that is long overdue for the hundreds of people whose lives were forever changed by this unthinkable crime,” said Patel.

“Victims of terrorism have rights, and the courts will hold responsible the guilty parties who otherwise might believe there is no consequence for their heinous crimes,” said Stuart Newberger, the victims' lead attorney and a senior partner at the international law firm Crowell & Moring. “The victims who filed this lawsuit today have been waiting for 20 years, and they have faith that justice will ultimately prevail.”

Seetharamiah Krishnaswamy was traveling with his wife on Pan Am Flight 73 when it was hijacked. He and his wife were traveling to the United States to attend the wedding of one of their daughters. Krishnaswamy was murdered, leaving behind a wife and four children. His son, Dr. Prabhat Krishnaswamy, an Ohio resident, said “It was only after the Safarini sentencing in 2004 that the victims uncovered Libya's role in this attack. We formed a unified group determined to seek the truth behind this hijacking and hold Libya accountable.” Recently, the U.S. Department of Justice recognized Dr. Krishnaswamy with a prestigious award for his “courage, perseverance, and commitment in seeking justice” on behalf of the Pan Am 73 families. Krishnaswamy added, “ Libya has attempted to get off the list of state sponsors of terrorism and earn some sort of legitimate place in the world. But the victims remember. We are still here, and we are not standing down until we achieve justice. We owe this to the memory of the 20 innocent people who were murdered that day.”

Editor's Notes:

Crowell & Moring

Crowell & Moring LLP is a full-service law firm with approximately 300 attorneys practicing in litigation, antitrust, government contracts, corporate, intellectual property and more than 40 other practice areas. More than two-thirds of the firm's attorneys regularly litigate disputes on behalf of international corporations, start-up businesses, and individuals. Crowell & Moring's extensive client work ranges from advising on one of the world's largest telecommunications mergers to handling complex intellectual property litigation. Based in Washington, D.C., the firm has offices in Brussels, California, and London.

Crowell & Moring's Victims of Terrorism Practice

Representative matters handled by the Crowell & Moring Victims of Terrorism Group include lawsuits by former hostages held in Lebanon against the Islamic Republic of Iran; administrative and legislative efforts involving claims by victims of the bombing of the United States Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya; claims against Iran by victims of the bombing of the United States Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon in 1983; and proceedings arising from terrorist activities in several other foreign countries. Team members also have actively participated as lead counsel or amici counsel in several civil terrorism cases before the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Stuart H. Newberger

Stuart H. Newberger is chair of the International and Government Litigation/Arbitration Group of Crowell & Moring, which includes the firm's Victims of Terrorism practice. He has handled a wide range of cases in the U.S. Supreme Court, federal and state courts of appeals, and trial courts across the nation. He also tries international arbitration proceedings in Europe and the United States. Among the areas of his practice are constitutional law, international law and cross-border disputes, ethics and national-security matters. Many of his cases raise issues that intersect public policy, international relations, litigation, legislation, administrative law and the media. Many cases involve disputes with governmental bodies or agencies. Newberger served as law clerk to U.S. District Court Judge Harold H. Greene and is a former Assistant United States Attorney. He has served as an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University and has lectured regularly at law schools across the nation. He is a regular speaker at meetings of the American Bar Association and at the annual Congress of the Union International des Avocats at locations around the world.


Phill McGowan
Director of PR, Media and Communication
+1 202.508.8835

Email Twitter LinkedIn Facebook Google+