Terror Case Star Witness Can’t Read Arabic

     BROOKLYN (CN) – A Hamas expert and the star witness in Arab Bank’s defense as it fends off accusations of bankrolling Hamas suicide attacks in Gaza in the 2000s admitted on the stand late Wednesday that she can’t read Arabic.
     Beverly Milton-Edwards is a professor in the School of Politics, International Studies and Philosophy at Queens’s University in Belfast and is the co-author of “Hamas: The Islamic Resistance Movement.”
     Arab Bank called Milton-Edwards to testify about Hamas and to buoy its defense against allegations that it knowingly provided banking services to high-ranking Hamas leaders. The bank says it did not know whom it was paying when it provided American cash from the Saudi Committee to families of suicide attackers.
     The trial is the result of a decade-old federal lawsuit filed in Brooklyn by the families of 300 victims of 24 suicide attacks in the West Bank during the Second Intifada between 2000 and 2004.
     Milton-Edwards had testified Wednesday that the charities she visited throughout the years for research on her book revealed no evidence of Hamas-related activities. Before the charities were “Hamasified,” they were true humanitarian efforts dedicated to female literacy, hunger, and education, among other things, she said.
     On cross-examination Wednesday, attorneys for the plaintiffs asked Milton-Edwards to read what was at the bottom of a Hamas-sponsored image.
     She said: “No, I can’t. It’s in Arabic,” according to the court transcript.
     When asked about her testimony from Monday, when she indicated that she can speak Arabic, Milton-Edwards responded, “I can’t read Arabic any longer.”
     The revelation came as a surprise to some observers in the court because, during her testimony over the last few days, Milton-Edwards said she had traveled extensively to several so-called “charities” that allegedly provided the money to suicide bombers, but that she had never seen any indications of a Hamas presence on literature or propaganda.
     Plaintiffs’ attorney probed further, asking her, “Didn’t you testify on Monday that, when you went to all these committees and you reviewed all of their literature and so forth, you didn’t see any signs that the materials were about Hamas?”
     She replied: “I didn’t see materials like this, no.”
     The attorney then asked, “But you can’t read materials that actually say the word ‘Hamas’ on them, can you?”
     Milton-Edwards responded: “No. As I said to you when you pointed it out, because you asked me to read the slogan at the bottom, I can’t read the slogan at the bottom. We agreed you said that at the end, ‘Hamas,’ and I said that is an H and an S, which is the acronym for Hamas. I can identify things like that. That’s different from ‘can I read sentences in Arabic?’ which I think is what you are asking.
     The plaintiffs say the Amman, Jordan-based bank “aided and abetted … acts of international terrorism, resulting in the attempted killing and maiming of scores of American citizens in Israel since September 2000.”
     But Laura Cilmi, a spokeswoman for the bank, pointed out that the initial claim of aiding and abetting was thrown out in April 2013, and now plaintiffs have to prove that the bank knew that it was providing services to terrorists, or was willfully blind, “neither of which has been or can be proven,” she said.
     Climi also noted that Milton-Edwards “never said she read Arabic,” and that her testimony was “that she spoke it.”
     Milton-Edwards “would be able to identify as symbols of Hamas and as she testified in her many visits she didn’t see evidence of this kind,” Cilmi said in an email. “None of these charities were designated by the U.S. government during the relevant period in question.”
     U.S. District Judge Gina Gershon in Brooklyn had sanctioned the bank for its failure to turn over certain records. The bank has maintained that it cannot release the documents because of Jordanian laws that forbid it, and that it is now forced to decide whether to comply with the order or violate Jordan’s banking laws.
     President Barack Obama’s administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court to turn away the case, and the high court refused to intervene in June.
     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.
     That left the case – believed to be the first of its kind accusing a financial institution of bankrolling terrorism – to play out at trial in a high-rise Brooklyn courtroom before a jury and U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan.
     The bank has denied 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 defendants.”
     The families sued for violations of the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act, a law signed by President Bill Clinton that paves the way for American victims of terrorist attacks to seek damages. The U.S. named Hamas a terrorist organization in 1997.

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