A lawyer representing the families of Americans killed in Mideast terror attacks urged a Brooklyn jury Thursday to send the banking industry a message by finding Arab Bank liable for damages for helping finance the attacks.
"You have a unique opportunity to change the world of banking," attorney Tab Turner said in his closing argument in U.S. District Court.
Turner is part of a team of attorneys representing nearly 300 people who lost family members to terrorism in the Palestinian territories. There are several pending lawsuits seeking damages under the federal Anti-Terrorism Act, with the Arab Bank case the first to go to trial last month.
The Jordan-based bank's lead attorney, Shand Stephens, told jurors that the bank followed normal banking procedures and should not be held civilly responsible for a "cycle of violence" between Arabs and Jews that has spanned a half-century.
He said the bank processed payments to people in the Palestinian territories from a Saudi charity that was not on any government terrorist watch list, and that the payments went to people who lost crops or were wounded by Israeli forces -- not just to those engaged in terrorism.
Some of the bank officials involved in the financial transactions were themselves targeted by terrorists and had no reason to facilitate terror attacks, Stephens argued.
The lawsuit claims the bank knew that supporters of Middle East terrorism were funneling millions of dollars through its accounts to pay the families of suicide bombers, and to people wounded or imprisoned by Israeli forces.
The money was the "oxygen" that fueled 24 attacks during an uprising led by the Palestinian group Hamas between 2000 and 2004 that resulted in the deaths of 30 Americans and the wounding of 50 others, the lawsuit alleges.
But Stephens said that except for one clerical error, the bank had never processed payments for anyone on United States, United Nations or European Union terrorist watch lists, and it was the job of governments, not banks, to decide who should be considered a terrorist.
The bank refused to turn over some documents during pretrial proceedings, and Turner told jurors they could "assume" that those documents would have been damaging to the bank.
Turner said bank officials should have known they were dealing with terrorists because some of their clients had been on television claiming to belong to Hamas, and were well known in the community.
He said the bank was like "a Hamas 7-Eleven on the corner," and that one Hamas member was so well-known, it was "a bit like J. Lo walking in."
Attorneys have said the bank could be held liable for millions in damages. After lawyers finished their closing arguments, Judge Brian Cogan gave the jury instructions on the law before adjourning for the day. Deliberations were to start Friday morning.