A Brooklyn federal jury Monday found Jordan's Arab Bank liable for 24 Mideast terror attacks because it was willfully blind to dealings that assisted Hamas, in a landmark verdict opening banks to the prospect of massive damages for aiding terror groups.
Plaintiffs' lawyers, who spent 10 years getting to trial on behalf of victims injured or killed during the Palestinian uprising from 2000 to 2004 said it was a victory that would send a strong message to other banks.
"It's an enormous milestone," lawyer Gary Osen said. "It's the first time a financial institution has ever been held liable for knowingly supporting terrorism."
Clients involved in the case, nearly 300 victims and relatives, lauded the verdict.
"I'm elated that we won," said Eugene Goldstein, 85, formerly of Plainview, who was wounded and lost his son Zvi in a 2003 attack. "To me, it was more than the money. It avenged my son's death."
Arab Bank pledged an appeal, calling the case a "show trial" where the judge applied loose standards of causation and sanctioned the bank by telling jurors they could find knowing support for terrorism because it refused to turn over secret account records.
"The evidence was a mile wide and an inch deep," bank lawyer Shand Stephens said. "The Second Circuit (appeals court) is going to reverse it."
During trial, plaintiffs argued that the bank -- the Mideast's largest, with $46 billion in assets -- aided Hamas by opening accounts for the group and its operatives and affiliates, and processing payments from a Saudi charity to Palestinians, including families of "martyrs."
The bank said it handled banking for customers in a war-ravaged area, complied with international terrorism blacklists, and was being sued for actions not banned by banking regulators.
The plaintiffs did not tie Arab Bank to an attack. But U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan said they didn't have to prove attacks wouldn't have occurred "but for" the bank's actions -- only that it enhanced Hamas' ability to carry out attacks.
The only jury member to speak to reporters, Jill Rath, 24, of Wantagh, said there were few disagreements in two days of deliberation.
The bank's compliance with terrorist watch lists didn't convince Rath that Arab Bank didn't have a "great deal of knowledge" about customers not on the lists, who the plaintiffs said had Hamas links.
The bank said 50 years of violence between Palestinians and Israelis dwarfed its actions as a cause of attacks. Rath said, "the money in the financing is the oxygen for terrorism. It played a big role."
The suit was filed under the federal Anti-Terrorism Act, a statute authorizing triple damages and attorney fees for those injured "by reason of" an act of international terrorism that plaintiffs' lawyers have used increasingly since Sept. 11. Damages will be determined by another jury, lawyers said, and Cogan will have to decide whether to let the bank file its appeal of yesterday's verdict before the damages trial.
In addition to the standards for liability, the bank's appeal is expected to attack the sanction over the bank's failure to give up records. Jordan and the U.S. State Department have sided with the bank. The Justice Department said the judge erred.
"It's the end of the beginning instead of the beginning of the end," Osen said.
Some plaintiffs said they were saddened it took 10 years and efforts of private lawyers -- rather than the government -- to pursue Arab Bank.
"I'm disappointed that it took this long," said Maida Averbach, the mother of Steven Averbach, who was left a quadriplegic by a 2003 bus bombing and later died. "And I'm disappointed the U.S. didn't protect its citizens."