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Arab Bank official, in court, defends payments to suicide bombers' families

An Arab Bank official defended payments that were processed for the families of Palestinian suicide bombers and other "martyrs" in a deposition played Thursday in the trial of terror victims' civil suit against the bank in federal court in Brooklyn.

"We pay families of the deceased," said Mohammad al-Tahan, head of operations in the Palestinian territories in the early 2000s. "If one member of the family is a criminal, justice provides that a person should not be convicted just on account of the offense of another."

In the landmark case, American victims of 24 Hamas terror attacks in Israel during the Palestinian uprising from 2000 to 2004 -- including some with Long Island ties -- are suing the bank for providing financial services that they say aided the terror group.

Al-Tahan's 2007 videotaped deposition was included among those of a half-dozen bank officials played for the jury at the end of the second week of trial in an effort to show that the bank turned a blind eye to the purposes of money it transferred.

One key allegation focuses on the transfer of humanitarian funds from a Saudi Arabian charity, the Saudi Committee for the Support of the Intifada Al-Quds, that included payments to the families of prisoners and "martyrs" who died in the conflict.

The victims portray some of those payments as "insurance" for suicide bombers. Al-Tahan told a plaintiff's lawyer they were part of a program to ease hardship, not reward terrorism.

"Brother, we pay the family of the martyr -- the family of the deceased, and not to people who perpetrate criminal acts," he said. "As I have already stated, the Palestinian people are a poor people."

But another bank official, David Blackmore, who was a compliance officer at Arab Bank's offices in London, had a different reaction during his deposition when asked whether transfers to "martyrs'" families would have passed muster in the United Kingdom.

"We would never in a million years have dealt with a payment order such as this," he said.In other testimony yesterday, former Israeli military intelligence officer Arieh Spitzen said he had traced 223 money transfers worth $3.2 million that went through the bank's New York office to 27 Hamas leaders and operatives from 2000 to 2002.

The bank says none of the transfers was flagged and blocked because only one of the names -- Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin -- appeared on U.S. terror blacklists, and his name was misspelled.

But Spitzen said many of the Hamas account holders had high public profiles throughout the Mideast. His testimony resumes on Tuesday.

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