MANHATTAN (CN) – A 9/11 widow voiced alarm Thursday after attorneys for Saudi Arabia tried to dismiss a landmark challenge to its alleged funding of jihad as an attack on Islam.
“Of course the Saudis wanted to come out and make us feel ashamed because we’re actually holding an Islamic country accountable,” she said. “I found that completely disgraceful and shameful on their part. Our family members were murdered. That’s why we’re here.”
Strada’s husband was a bond broker for Cantor Fitzgerald inside the World Trade Center when a pair of hijacked planes brought down the Twin Towers in 2001.
On 9/11, 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals. For years, however, survivors of the attacks and relatives of the victims proved unable to hold the kingdom accountable because the law restricted them to suing governments that the U.S. has designated as state sponsors of terrorism.
Pending now before U.S. District Judge George Daniels in New York, the new lawsuit was filed after Congress finally removed Saudi Arabia’s shield with its passage of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act.
Saudi Arabia’s attorneys at the firm Kellogg Hansen called the claims thin on evidence at Thursday’s landmark hearing.
“The plaintiffs are repeatedly trying to paint Islam itself as a form of terrorism,” attorney Michael Kellogg said.
Steven Pounian, an attorney for the 9/11 families with the firm Kreindler & Kreindler, meanwhile reminded Judge Daniels of his ruling on an earlier version of the case.
“The labyrinthine means by which al-Qaida receives material support will not act as a shield to protect the providers of such support from liability,” Pounian said, quoting the judge’s ruling from Sept. 13, 2010.
Though Daniels dismissed this earlier lawsuit, the passage of JASTA in 2016 allowed the 9/11 families to refile their lawsuit, with support from newly declassified information that places the kingdom’s agents close to the hijackers.
Among other materials, a previously suppressed chapter of the 9/11 Commission Report offered new allegations that Saudi agents coordinated with a hijacker cell in Los Angeles.
Pounian said that he wants the opportunity to depose some of the men who made appearances in that chapter, including Omar al-Bayoumi, a reputed intelligence officer, and Fahad al-Thumairy, a Saudi consular official.
“Here, we need the evidence,” Pounian said. “We’re entitled to discovery of the evidence.”
Kellogg, the kingdom’s attorney, countered that the terrorist attack already has been fully probed.
“We’re talking about the most investigated event in U.S. history,” he said.
Strada, the 9/11 widow, said that she and her fellow families are not ready to wrap up their hunt for answers.
“Make no mistake: Saudi nationals came here and murdered our loved ones,” she said. “We’re here today in this courtroom once again for the jurisdiction to be ruled in our favor that we can now present our evidence into a courtroom. This is something the 9/11 families have been denied for a very long time – for too long.”
Strada also noted that JASTA, which made today’s hearing possible, resulted from their four-year lobbying effort. The New Jersey-based mother of three is national chair of a group called 9/11 Families & Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism.