The Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority fueled a series of terrorist attacks in Israel that killed and injured Americans in 2002 and now must pay their families at least $218.5 million in damages, a federal court jury in Manhattan ruled Monday.
The lawsuit is one of several cases brought under the federal Antiterrorism Act, upping the ante and holding the PLO and other foreign entities liable for injuries to U.S. victims of terrorism.
While the jury found damages of more than $218 million, that amount can be tripled under the terrorism statute to more than $655 million and would go to members of 10 families, including one from Cedarhurst, who suffered various injuries and trauma from deadly bombings and shootings in and around Jerusalem in 2002.
"The message is clear -- if you kill or injure Americans in an act of international terrorism the long arm of American law will come after you," said Kent Yalowitz, the lead attorney for the families.
Evidence in court showed that the PLO and the PA provided financial help to families of suicide bombers and gunmen killed in attacks, as well as paid salaries of their employees who were jailed in terror cases in Israel, Yalowitz said.
According to court records, the PLO and Palestinian Authority maintained they didn't approve or sanction the terror attacks.
None of the family victims were in court Monday. Neither Mark nor Rena Sokolow of Cedarhurst, who are among the named plaintiffs, could be reached for comment.
Dr. Mahmoud Khalifa, deputy minister of information for the Palestinian Authority, said both his organization and the PLO "are deeply disappointed by the adverse decision issued today in a New York court. The charges that were made against us are baseless. . . . We will appeal this decision. We are confident that we will prevail, as we have faith in the U.S. legal system and are certain about our common sense belief and our strong legal standing."
In a briefing with reporters outside the courthouse, Yalowitz indicated it could be a long time for the victims to get money since the defendants could post a bond while they appealed. Without the bond families could try to collect by going after bank and brokerage accounts and other assets.
It was unclear what, if anything, the plaintiffs could collect if the verdict is sustained on appeal. The Palestinian Authority was having financial problems even before Israel began withholding millions each month it collects on behalf of the Palestinians as punishment for its move to join the International Criminal Court and to seek to prosecute Israel for war crimes.
"Maybe they ought to think about taking the terrorists off their payroll and using that money to pay for the damage that they caused," Yalowitz said of the PLO and PWith John Riley and the Los Angeles Times