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August 5, 2015

A group of American terrorism victims filed a lawsuit Wednesday asking a federal judge to stop the U.S. government from releasing billions of dollars in Iranian assets as part of the Obama administration’s nuclear deal.

The approximately two dozen victims are Americans injured or killed in suicide bombings in and around Israel from 1995 to 2006 and their family members.

The victims previously sued Iran and were awarded over $1.5 billion, including $152.7 million in compensation, by federal judges who found that Iran helped support the terrorist attacks against them. Iran hasn’t paid the judgments, some of which date back over a decade.

If the nuclear deal, which was reached on July 14, is approved by Congress, it would return an estimated $100 billion to $150 billion in overseas bank accounts back to Iran, making it more difficult for terrorism victims to seize that money as part of their judgments, the victims’ lawyers said in a complaint filed in Manhattan federal court on Wednesday. The money, which is primarily from frozen oil profits, should instead be given to victims, they argue.

“To release the funds instead of turning them over to the victims would make a farce out of this hard-fought legal process,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, one of the lawyers representing the victims.

Congress is expected to review the agreement and vote on it in early September.

The lawsuit targets Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew. A spokeswoman for the State Department said the department doesn’t comment on pending litigation. The Treasury Department didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Obama has called on Congress to approve the deal and threatened to veto any vote against it. The negotiated deal will limit Iran’s nuclear activity for at least a decade in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

The victims have been trying to enforce their judgments and have gone after Iranian assets for years, according to their lawyers, including an unsuccessful attempt to benefit from Iranian artifacts being held at museums in Boston and Chicago.

In the past two decades, victims have been awarded a total of approximately $45 billion by U.S. federal judges in lawsuits against Iran, none of which has been paid by Iran. Although some victims see the nuclear deal as a potential catalyst to pressure Iran to negotiate with victims, others have expressed concerns that the deal could reduce the victims’ leverage and make it more difficult to stop Iran from financing terrorism.