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Family of Steven Sotloff, Journalist Slain by ISIS, Sues Syria Over His Death

MIAMI — The family of slain journalist Steven Sotloff is suing Syria in U.S. court, claiming the government of President Bashar Assad provided support to ISIS militants who carried out the gruesome beheading.

The lawsuit filed Monday in federal court in Washington seeks $90 million in compensatory damages plus up to three times that in punitive damages from Syria for Sotloff's 2014 killing. It's far from certain, however, that Sotloff's South Florida-based family would be able to collect money from a foreign government if they win the case.

Obama Vows Justice for Sotloff's ISIS killers 0:38

Sotloff was kidnapped in August 2013 after crossing into Syria from Turkey, according to the lawsuit. He was killed on Sept. 2, 2014, and a video was distributed around the world documenting his death. Another American journalist, James Foley, had been killed a month earlier by ISIS.

Related: U.S. Will Hold ISIS Accountable After Steven Sotloff Slaying: Kerry

The Sotloff lawsuit contends that Syria — designated a state sponsor of terrorism by the U.S. — is liable because it provided financial, material and military support to ISIS. It says Syria, even as a sovereign entity, can be sued in federal court as a provider of that support.

Image: American journalist Steven Sotloff
U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff. The Daily Caller via Reuters

"Syria's material support for (ISIS) caused the abduction and murder of Steven Sotloff," the lawsuit says.

Sotloff, 31, was a Miami native who reported from a number of Middle Eastern countries for publications such as Time, the Christian Science Monitor and Foreign Policy magazine. Before his kidnapping, family and friends have said he was planning to go to Aleppo, Syria, to report on the city's humanitarian crisis.

"Steven covered the civil wars in Libya and Syria because he cared deeply about the people of those countries," the lawsuit says.

Related: 'Celebrating His Life': Slain Journalist Steven Sotloff Honored

Syria has not yet answered the lawsuit. It has previously been sued for terrorism-related claims in U.S. courts, as have countries such as Iran and Cuba. Although sometimes these cases lead to huge damage awards, lawyers have often found it difficult to track down assets that can be seized to satisfy a U.S. judgment.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Sotloff's father, mother and sister. Their attorney declined Tuesday to discuss details of the lawsuit.