A former Israeli police officer said he saw the suicide bombing that would leave him a quadriplegic unfolding on a Jerusalem bus in 2003 but reacted an instant too late, as a closely watched terrorism suit against Jordan's Arab Bank began Monday in Brooklyn.
Steven Averbach, who died of complications in 2012, said in a 2007 deposition that led off testimony in federal court in Brooklyn that the terrorist dressed as an Orthodox Jew had incongruous shoes, "bulges" in his black jacket and a doorbell-type device in his hand.
"I could see a sense of tension in the people I was looking at," said Averbach, a native New Jerseyan. "There were too many things out of place. . . . I immediately drew my sidearm. I turned 90 degrees to engage the target when he detonated himself."
The commuter bus bombing, which killed seven and injured 20, is one of 24 alleged Hamas terror attacks in the early 2000s that nearly 300 victims and their families claim were facilitated by financial services that Arab Bank provided.
The case is the first to go to trial against a bank under the federal Anti-Terrorism Act, which allows U.S. citizens to sue for terrorism abroad, and is seen as a test case for how broadly liability may be imposed on financial firms for inadequate anti-terror steps.
The plaintiffs contend the bank maintained Hamas-linked accounts and transferred money for a Saudi charity that included payments to "martyrs." They have to prove the 24 attacks were Hamas operations and that it was foreseeable that the bank's services would enhance the likelihood of such attacks.
The bank is not accused of planning or knowing about any specific attack, and while his videotaped deposition from a wheelchair provided an emotional start to the case, Averbach admitted he couldn't link the bank to what happened to him.
Asked about the bank's role, he said, "I don't know of any."
In other testimony Monday, Evan Kohlmann, an expert paid $35,000 by the plaintiffs, said he had found "authentic" claims of responsibility for all 24 of the attacks at issue on Hamas websites. But he testified he couldn't say for sure the claims were true.
The attacks at issue in the case range from notorious incidents like the 2003 Park Hotel bombing in Netanya that took 30 lives to smaller incidents, such as a highway shooting in 2003 that wounded Eugene and Lorraine Goldstein of Plainview and killed their son.
The bank says it did nothing but provide "routine banking services" to a wide range of customers in a conflict-torn region and never intentionally aided Hamas or terrorism.