Supporters of Middle East terrorism funneled $35 million through Jordan's Arab Bank more than a decade ago to pay the families of suicide bombers, the wounded and those imprisoned by authorities, attorneys charged in federal court in Brooklyn Thursday.
The money was "the oxygen" that fueled terror attacks in and around Israel during an uprising led by Hamas between 2000 and 2004 that resulted in death and injury to dozens of Americans visiting the region, the lawyers said during opening statements.
They were in court to represent the families of 30 Americans killed and 50 more wounded in 24 attacks blamed on Hamas during that period.
A jury in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn will decide whether the victims' relatives are entitled to monetary damages from the bank. It is the first case to go to trial in which a bank is accused under the federal Anti-Terrorism Act of being legally liable for the actions of a terrorist group.
Arab Bank attorney Shand Stephens told the jurors that the vast majority of transactions involved groups and individuals that were not on any terrorism warning lists. When the transactions were processed, Stephens said, they did not trigger any alarms from regulators.
He said the bank processed payments for a charity, the Saudi Committee, which was not on any government list of suspected terrorist groups, adding that the payments went to any victims of the violence, not just supporters of the terrorists.
"The Saudi Committee chose those to pay. The Arab Bank did not," Stephens said.
Some of the people alleged to be involved in the financial transactions were themselves the targets of terrorist acts, and had no reason to facilitate terrorism, Stephens said.
Attorney Mark Werbner, representing the families, said the evidence would show that bank officials knew, or reasonably should have known, whom they were dealing with.
"The issue here is: What did the bank know, and when did they know it?" Werbner said.
Another attorney for the families, Michael Elsner, said bank officials will not be able to explain on the witness stand why they ignored markings on bank records that showed some of the money was going to suicide bombers.
Testimony in the trial is scheduled to start Monday, and it is expected to last between three and six weeks.
Attorneys have said they will put some family members on the witness stand, but much of the testimony is expected to come from banking officials and terrorism experts.