NY Jury Told to Blame Bank for Gaza Terror
BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) - Arab Bank turned a "blind eye" in letting clients funnel $35 million - mostly in American cash - to families of suicide bombers during the second intifada in Israel, lawyers argued Thursday, the first day of trial on claims that the bank knowingly provided material support to terrorists.
"The bank was knowingly providing financial services to Hamas and turned a blind eye," said Tab Turner, one of the three lawyers representing about 300 families and victims of 24 different attacks in Gaza who sued the Jordan-based bank a decade ago.
In support of claims that the bank provided financial services to terrorists during the second intifada (uprising), the families say that the bank acted as the "paymaster" for the Saudi Committee for the Support of Intifada Al Quds. That group paid families of suicide bombers $5,300, often in American cash, while families of prisoners got $2,655, Turner argued in his opening statement. Those who were injured got $1,300.
The bank also acted to "incentivize" terrorists, "primarily kids," Turner said, adding that the banks even put out ads for families of bombers to come collect their money. "If your son is a 'martyr,' come to Arab Bank," Turner said.
Denying the allegations, Arab Bank attorney Shand Stephens said his client "couldn't possibly have known" who it was paying.
"Arab Bank did not choose who to pay," said Stephens, an attorney with DLA Piper.
The lawyer also emphasized that any person or group who did business with Arab Bank and is accused of being affiliated with Hamas was not placed on terror lists maintained by the United States, the United Nations or the European Union. If they were on any lists, their transactions would have been blocked, Stephens said.
"It's the government who decides who is a criminal," he told the court. "That's not made by private companies."
Stephens called the attacks "horrific beyond imagination."
"Our hearts go out to the victims of such acts of sinister violence," he added.
The families claim that the bank violated the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act, which makes it possible for victims of known terrorist groups to be compensated. Hamas was designated a terrorist organization in 1997.
The trial - which is being argued before a jury and presided over by U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan - resumes Monday morning.
It is said to be the first civil lawsuit against a bank with allegations of financing terrorism to make it to trial in the United States.
The case survived several challenges and is now playing out in a Brooklyn high-rise courtroom while Israel and Hamas continue to fight. Both sides agreed to a 120-hour cease-fire beginning Thursday.