Bank that funded terrorism must pay back victims
by Rachel Lynn Aldrich
Posted 9/23/14, 04:54 pm
In a landmark decision, a jury reached a unanimous verdict Monday after two days of deliberation that the large, Jordan-based Arab Bank should be held responsible for Hamas-sanctioned suicide bombings in the early 2000s that killed and wounded several Americans. The trial, held in a federal court in Brooklyn, was the first time a jury found a bank liable for knowingly supporting a terrorist organization, said the plaintiffs’ lawyer Gary Osen.
“The question now is how the rest of the financial world, regulators, and governments deal with Arab Bank,” Osen said.
American victims of the terrorist attacks sued the international bank, which has several branches in the West Bank and Gaza, in 2004 for helping Hamas provide a “death and dismemberment benefit plan” for suicide bombers and Hamas martyrs. The case is the first time a bank has been sued under the Anti-Terrorism Act, which allows victims of U.S.-designated terrorist organizations to seek compensation.
During the five-week trial, lawyers sought to demonstrate how money was funneled through the bank and knowingly paid out to families of suicide bombers. Part of the evidence included bank payments documenting an electronic transfer to Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, and a list of people to receive $5,300 upon death in a “martyr operation.”
“Obviously, this case is a long way from over,” U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan told lawyers after dismissing the jury. “We have not finished our work here by a long shot.”
The defense portrayed Arab Bank Chairman Sabih al-Masri as a responsible banker who had himself suffered from the effects of terrorism and was working for humanitarian purposes and stability in the region. The bank’s attorneys argued that Hamas operatives mentioned in the case were not the U.S. terrorism watch list, so the bank leaders could not have known whom they were funding.
The plaintiffs pointed out Hamas leaders were well-known in the area, and there was no way the bank executives didn’t know where the money was going. Before the trial, the bank refused to turn over account records to the plaintiffs’ lawyers because of privacy regulations. The court ruled the jury could infer that withheld records might contain incriminating evidence.
“What is it that the bank was so worried about they didn’t want you to see it? They didn’t want you to see who was giving who money and for what,” plaintiff attorney Tab Turner said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.