In a historic verdict, an 11 member jury on Monday found Arab Bank liable for knowingly providing financial services to Hamas - the first time a financial institution has ever been held civilly liable for supporting terrorism.
The Arab Bank trial took place in a federal court in Brooklyn for the last five weeks and revisited some of Hamas' worst terror attacks, including the August 2001 Sbarro suicide bombing in Jerusalem killing or wounding 130 and a range of 24 horrid terror attacks during the Second Intifada.
297 plaintiffs who were injured or are family members of those murdered in the 24 terror attacks from 1998-2004 financed via Saudi Arabia and Hezbollah’s al-Shahid Foundation sued the bank in 2004 for allowing itself to be used as a conduit for the terror funds.
The 10 year history of intense legal battles, included trying to get the bank's "secret" client documents located in Jordan, Lebanon and the Palestinian areas.
The US Supreme Court has already weighed in once pretrial and may be asked to weigh in again post-trial, while the US State, Justice and Treasury Departments fought over whether the US government should accede to Jordan's requests to for intervening in the case.
Jordan told the US Supreme Court that Arab Bank is so crucial, that a billions dollar judgment that tanks the bank could lead to economic and political instability and devastation, possibly damaging crucial US-Jordan counter-terror cooperation.
Commentators have written that if Arab Bank was held liable for being a conduit for funds which eventually reached terrorists, the precedent could shake the international banking system to its foundations as many major banks may use their size and looking the other way to dabble in such transactions.
The central question was whether the 11 member jury would find that Arab Bank knew or should have known that its account holders were using it to transfer "blood money" to Hamas for terror operations - or whether it checked for suspicious transactions as best it could, and simply imperfectly missed them.
On Thursday, during closing arguments, Plaintiffs’ attorney C. Tab Turner told the jury they were in a very special situation: “a situation that no jury in the history of this country has ever been in."
He continued, "Never has anyone sat on a case of finance terrorism, with issues like you have to decide in this case."
“You have more power today to change the way that this world operates, the world of banking operates, than anyone else on the face of the earth,” said Turner.
Gary M. Osen, another plaintiffs' attorney responded, saying, "The jury has found Arab Bank responsible for knowingly supporting terrorism. It found Arab Bank complicit in the deaths and grievous injuries inflicted on dozens of Americans."
He added, "Every bank, every company and every government in the world now has to decide whether it is willing to continue doing business with an institution proven to have knowingly supported terrorism and proven to have helped murder Americans.”
Responding, Arab Bank said that it had "predicted that any proceeding conducted under the district court’s improper sanctions, which the US government found to be ‘erroneous,’ would be nothing more than a show trial."
It added that, "Once the Court eliminated the Bank’s defenses, permitted weeks of inadmissible and inflammatory testimony of plaintiffs’ witnesses, and rejected the Supreme Court’s binding causation standard, the verdict against the Bank was inevitable."
Further, the bank said, “Taken together, the Court’s rulings excluded nearly all evidence about banking and put Hamas on trial, but as Judge Weinstein found in dismissing the related Gill case, ‘Hamas is not the defendant; the Bank is.’"
The bank continued that it “believes it will ultimately prevail in this case. The trial was infected by scores of errors, and the Bank has very strong grounds for appeal" and will appeal to the US federal appeals court.
During a trial lasting nearly six weeks, the jury was presented with evidence showing that Arab Bank held accounts for multiple senior Hamas leaders, including Hamas founder and spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and current Hamas leaders Osama Hamdan and Ismail Haniyeh.
The jury was also presented with evidence that Arab Bank transferred more than $30 million dollars to Hamas-controlled institutions in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, such as al-Mujama al-Islami (The Islamic Center of Gaza) and al-Jam'iya al-Islamiya (The Islamic Society of Gaza).
Furthermore, the Plaintiffs presented evidence that Arab Bank served as the conduit between the Saudi Committee in Support of the Intifada Al Quds, a Saudi charity established in October 2000, and the families of Hamas suicide bombers, martyrs and prisoners.
According to an unclassified U.S. State Department memorandum released after the jury began deliberations, “In 2003, the United States provided evidence to Saudi authorities that the Saudi al Quds Intifadah Committee (“Committee”) founded in October 2000, was forwarding millions of dollars in funds to the families of Palestinians engaged in terrorist activities, including those of suicide bombers.”
“The timing of the State Department’s disclosure raises deeply troubling questions,” said Plaintiffs’ trial counsel Michael Elsner, who requested the records. “Obviously, the jury reached the same conclusion about the Saudi payments in finding Arab Bank guilty for its support of Hamas, but this last minute disclosure of this evidence six years after we requested it and hours after the jury began its deliberations is telling."
"We don’t expect the State Department to take sides in a civil case, but by withholding critical evidence until the jury began its deliberations, the State Department continues its unfortunate pattern of siding with foreign interests against American victims of terrorism," said Elsner.