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Judge releases money to USS Cole victims’ families

Staff and wire reports
RICHMOND, Va. ó Nearly nine years after 17 sailors were killed in a terrorist attack on the USS Cole, a judge has ordered New York banks to release $13.4 million in frozen Sudanese accounts to family members of the victims.
The father of a Rowan County native killed in that attack says the decision to release that money is just “one step” on the path to justice.
Lakeina Francis, 19, of Woodleaf, was one of the sailors who died aboard the USS Cole.
U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood issued the order last week, ending a six-year quest by 59 spouses, parents and children of the victims to hold the Sudanese government accountable for the deaths.
The families claimed in a lawsuit filed in Norfolk, Va., that Sudan provided support, including money and training, that allowed al-Qaida suicide bombers to attack the Navy destroyer at a refueling stop at the Yemen port of Aden on Oct. 12, 2000. The suicide bombers were in a small boat and tore a gaping 40-foot hole in the destroyer.
Sudan didn’t fight the case during a trial, but the government has refused to pay the families. The families’ lawyers were unable to get the money from Sudanese bank accounts because the U.S. government had frozen the assets.
Ronald Francis, Lakeina’s father, said he was aware of the judges’ decision to release the accounts, but he says this is not the end.
“This is one step. There’s still a lot of work in progress,” he said. “We still have a long ways.”
Francis said his immediate family and others in the “USS Cole family” are confident the Obama administration will follow through on President Obama’s vow to see justice served.
Francis said relatives of Cole victims keep in touch and that his and other families feel as though they’ve gotten better cooperation from the Obama administration. He said one victim’s family requested a meeting with President Bush but was denied.
The families now have a White House liaison they can call to ask questions and voice concerns.
“We have a direct line now,” Francis said.
The Francis family has also been in constant contact with their attorney.
Francis said his family and other victims’ families just want to learn all they can.
“We just want the whole truth to come out, everything that happened behind the scenes,” he said.
The families have gotten tidbits of information about the events of that October day, he said, and much of their information has come from media outlets or via the Internet.
Despite the ongoing quest for answers, Lakeina’s memory lives on.
Francis’ granddaughter, who is Lakeina’s niece, was named after Lakeina. The family also finds solace in visiting Lakeina’s grave or celebrating the life she lived, especially during military tribute services on Memorial Day, as well as seeing her pictures throughout their Woodleaf home or hearing that students are studying about his daughter in the “history books,” he said.
Judge Wood’s order frees the funds under the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002, which requires the release of blocked assets to satisfy a judgment against a “terrorist party.” The State Department has designated Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1993, Wood said.
“It’s about time something was done,” said John Clodfelter of Mechanicsville, Va., whose son Kenneth was killed. “It’s taken so much more time than we thought it should take.”
Clodfelter said his son’s widow and 10-year-old son will receive money. The only parents who will be paid are those whose deceased children were unmarried and didn’t have any children.
A spokesman for the Sudanese Embassy in Washington said Tuesday the country had nothing to do with the attack.
“It didn’t take place on Sudan soil or water, and there is no Sudanese involvement in it,” said spokesman Seif Yasin. “There’s no proof Sudan provided any financial support for anyone involved.”
The families originally sought more than $100 million, but a judge ordered Sudan to pay only for lost wages and earnings potential, not for pain and suffering.
Andrew C. Hall, attorney for the families, did not immediately return a telephone message left by the Associated Press.
Salisbury Post reporter Shavonne Potts contributed to this story.

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