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Civil Trial Lawyers Take On Terrorism

terror9n-1-web.jpgWe don’t usually talk about civil lawsuits for their capacity to take on terrorist groups and the institutions that support them, but that’s exactly what has been happening the last week in a US Eastern District court.

In the lawsuit Linde v. Arab Bank, the plaintiffs have claimed that Arab Bank PLC knowingly moved millions of dollars for the Islamist group Hamas to finance acts of violence. Mark S. Werber, a lawyer for American victims and family members in 24 terror attacks in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank from 2001 to 2004, said that Arab Bank knew that they were working for Hamas. “It wasn’t an accident or a mistake or just routine banking,” he said. “It was a choice that Arab Bank made.”

Shand S. Stephens, the bank’s attorney, retorted that Arab Bank relies on terrorist blacklists to screen clients. If an individual or organization does not appear on a blacklist, then the bank has no way of knowing that it might be providing assistance to Hamas.

The first witness called by the defense was 77-year-old billionaire Sabih Al-Masri, the bank’s current chairman. Al-Masri claimed ignorance of his clients’ terrorist affiliations, arguing that terrorism was bad financially for the bank. “Business suffered,” Al-Masri said of the Intifada suicide bombings. ”

Suicide bombers destroyed the opportunity for peace.”Arieh Spitzen, the former chief of the Israeli military’s Department of Palestinian Affairs, served as a witness for the plaintiffs. He testified that between 2000 and 2001, approximately 4 million dollars were transferred through the bank to Hamas leaders in New York. After Spitzen explained that his analysis of Arab Bank’s conduct was incomplete due to the bank’s refusal to hand over its complete records, federal judge Brian Cogan ruled that the jury may infer that Arab Bank provided financial services to Hamas and individuals affiliated with Hamas “knowingly and purposefully.”

This lawsuit marks the first instance of a financial institution put on trial under the civil provisions of the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act. If the plaintiffs’ case is successful, it will shine light on a new avenue for fighting terrorist organizations and their supporters.

Sources: Keshner, Andrew, “Arab Bank Chairman Takes Stand, Denies Funding Terrorists,” New York Law Journal, September 9, 2014.

Larson, Erik and Christie Smythe, “Arab Bank chairman tells U.S. jury terrorism hurts business,” Chicago Tribune, September 8, 2014.

Marzulli, John, “Billionaire head of Arab Bank denies turning blind eye to funding Hamas, suicide bombers,” New York Daily News, September 8, 2014.