This week, after a decade of legal tango, the Jordanian-based Arab Bank found itself on trial in Brooklyn over allegations it funded Hamas’ terror activities that injured and killed American citizens in Israel from 2001 to 2004.
The victims and their families contend that Arab Bank provided funds to people and organizations with known links to Hamas. The Arab Bank denies the claim.
The suit was filed under the Anti-Terrorism Act, which states that Americans—or, if they are deceased, their estate—can claim damages in federal court for damages caused by terrorism anywhere outside of the United States. The law was passed as a way to enable American victims of international terror to claim reparations. The law provides flexibility for victims to claim theoretical reparation, but in actuality it has had little effect, since it is understandably difficult to bring foreign terrorists to an American court.
Originally filed in 2004 by six families affected by terrorist attacks targeting Israelis, the lawsuit was now involves 297 plaintiffs, with hundreds of other claims pending.
The plaintiffs’ case revolves around three claims. First, they accuse Arab Bank of transferring funds from the Saudi Committee, identified as a charity, to relatives of 55 known suicide bombers over three years.
Second, the plaintiffs claim that the bank held accounts for approximately a dozen charities that were fronts to fund Hamas violence.
Their strongest claim perhaps was the fact that the bank maintained personal accounts for 30 senior Hamas members, including Ahmad Yassin, Hamas’ spiritual leader who has been on the U.S. terror list since 1995. Projecting their proof to the courtroom, the plaintiffs pulled up a record of electronic money transfers between Yassin and what the Associated Press reported as “a list from a bank file of people designated for $5,300 payments based on deaths from ‘martyr operations.’”
Arab Bank’s lawyers denied each of the claims, arguing that no services were provided to any person or organization on America’s list of known terrorists at the time, with the exception of Yassin, due to what the defense claims was a clerical error.
The case had stalled in recent years as the bank fought demands that it turn over customer account information and other financial records, arguing that doing so would violate banking secrecy laws in Jordan and in their 200 banks across 30 countries.
Once the trial was set, the largest difficulty was finding an uninformed, unbiased jury in New York. The Economist reported:
“No fewer than 500 candidates were required to complete a 25-page questionnaire to probe their suitability. It asked where they got their news, whether they spoke Arabic or Hebrew, what ties they and their friends and family had to the Middle East, and whether they knew any victims of terrorism, including the various attacks on New York. There were also questions not only about their own impressions of Muslims, Jews and Arabs, but also about those of their family and friends. Amazingly, this interrogation yielded ten apparently neutral jurors who will now sit through a trial that could last weeks or months.”
The next several weeks—the likely span of the trial—promise to be an intense time in Judge Brian Cogan’s Brooklyn courtroom. The case, Linde vs Arab Bank, could lead to a modification of the U.S. law surrounding terror financing by emphasizing the responsibility of banks to monitor clients for whom they’re banking.