Trial Starts Over Arab Bank's Hamas Ties

     BROOKLYN (CN) - In the first U.S. case pitting terror-funding claims against a bank, a federal judge held jury selection Monday regarding help Hamas allegedly received from Arab Bank.
     Thirty-nine Americans led by Courtney Linde claimed in a July 2004 complaint that the Jordan-based bank "knowingly administering the distribution of financial benefits to terrorists" as "part of a scheme to encourage and facilitate acts of international terrorism."
     Such money from the bank "has aided and abetted ... acts of international terrorism, resulting in the killing, attempted killing and maiming of scores of American citizens in Israel since September 2000," the 40-page complaint states.
     The plaintiffs say that the benefit supporters of Hamas took from the bank's services violated the federal Anti-Terrorism Act, a law that enables victims of overseas terrorist attacks to seek damages. Hamas was branded a terrorist organization by the United States in 1997.
     Lead plaintiff John Linde Jr. was 30 when the car in which he was riding was blown up by a remote-controlled bomb near the Beit Haroum junction in northern Gaza on Oct. 15, 2003. He was on his way to interview Palestinian applicants for Fullbright scholarships.
     A federal judge in Brooklyn had sanctioned the bank - the issue on appeal now before the 2nd Circuit - because of its failure to comply with orders that it give the plaintiffs certain records that the bank said constitute a violation of Jordanian laws.
     The U.S. Supreme Court's refusal to intervene in the case this past June forces the trial to play out for a jury before U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan.
     It had been the recommendation of U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. this past May to deny the bank certiorari, saying that the "significant" errors that the lower courts made in the case did not warrant the "extraordinary" relief of review by the high court.     
     Arab Bank denies the allegations against it, adding that it had "great sympathy for all victims of terrorism but is not liable for the tragic acts described by plaintiffs."
     "The full evidentiary record - much of which may be excluded from the jury because of the sanctions order and other pre-trial rulings by the Linde court - demonstrates that the bank did not cause or provide material support for the acts of terrorism involved in this case," Arab Bank said in a statement.
     The bank said the Linde case has the potential to "undermine the automated compliance systems that regulators around the world require banks to employ, and create vast uncertainty and risk in the international finance system."
     David Wollmuth with Wollmuth Maher & Deutsch represents the plaintiffs. Arab Bank is represented by DLA Piper and Mayer Brown.