A U.S. jury said on Monday Arab Bank Plc provided material support to Hamas, and must therefore compensate the victims of two dozen attacks the Islamic militant group allegedly carried out in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Jurors needed less than two days to deliberate, following a six-week trial in Brooklyn federal court that lawyers described as the first terrorism financing civil case to reach trial in the United States.
Nearly 300 Americans who were either victims or related to victims of the attacks had sued Arab Bank in 2004, accusing it of violating the Anti-Terrorism Act, which lets victims of U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations seek damages. A trial on damages will be scheduled for a later date.
The plaintiffs had accused the Jordan-based bank of knowingly maintaining accounts for Hamas operatives, and financing millions in payments for the families of suicide bombers and those imprisoned or injured during a Palestinian uprising that began in 2000.
“That is how we stop terrorism,” said Tab Turner, a lawyer for the victims, said in his closing argument last week. “You don’t stop them with bullets. You don’t stop them with smart bombs. … How you stop them is you take the money away.”
Lawyers for the bank had countered that Arab Bank merely provided routine banking services, and that most of the people and organizations that the plaintiffs claims had received the services had not been designated by the U.S. government as terrorists during those years.
“So who decides who is a terrorist?” lawyer Shand Stephens told the jury last week. “The answer is, it’s the government.”
To find Arab Bank liable, the jury had to conclude that it knowingly gave support to Hamas, that the support was a “substantial factor” in the bombings, and that the attacks were a “reasonably foreseeable” result of the bank’s actions, according to the judge’s instructions.
The trial could serve as a guidepost for similar claims against other banks, including pending lawsuits in New York against Bank of China Ltd and Credit Lyonnais SA . In addition, about 200 other plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Arab Bank have yet to go to trial.