US judge clears way for trial on damages against Arab Bank for terrorist attacks

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NEW YORK — A federal judge refused on Wednesday to throw out a U.S. jury's verdict finding that a large Jordan-based bank was responsible for terror attacks in Israel that killed or wounded Americans.

The ruling in the closely watched legal offshoot of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict clears the way for a second trial later this year to determine whether Arab Bank must pay damages that could reach hundreds of millions of dollars or more.

The bank had asked U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan to set aside year's verdict by a Brooklyn jury finding the institution liable in 24 suicide attacks and order a new trial. Cogan upheld the decision for all but two of the attacks.

The decision "puts an exclamation mark on the jury's verdict last September, highlighting all the evidence that supported the jury's conclusion that Arab Bank knowingly provided millions of dollars in material support to Hamas," a lawyer for the victims, Gary Osen, said in a statement.

Arab Bank released a statement saying the decision comes as no surprise.

"Nothing in today's opinion changes the fact that the District Court's proceedings were fundamentally flawed and subject to reversal on appeal," the statement said.

There was no immediate response to a message left for attorneys representing the bank.

The case has pitted American victims of terror attacks in the early 2000s against an international bank with several branches in Gaza and the West Bank. The victims sued in 2004, accusing the bank of knowingly helping Hamas fund a "death and dismemberment benefit plan" for martyrs from the territories.

The jury heard Hamas experts and other plaintiff witnesses attempt to link extremists to Arab Bank accounts and detail how cash payments were funneled through the bank and into the hands of the families of suicide bombers. The defense also argued that people the plaintiffs identified as Hamas operatives who did business with the bank weren't on a terrorist watch lists compiled by authorities in the United States and other Western nations.

It marked the first time a bank had faced a trial under the Anti-Terrorism Act, which allows victims of U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations to seek compensation. The U.S. State Department designated Hamas a terrorist group in 1997.

The judge agreed with the defendants' arguments that the plaintiffs failed to prove that Hamas was responsible for two of the bombing of a bus in January 2004 in Jerusalem that killed 11 people and a mortar attack on an Israeli settlement in September 2004 that killed one person and injured three others.

The trial had featured testimony from a flower shop owner who described in gory detail the "utter destruction" caused by the bus bombing. A Brooklyn woman also testified how the death of her husband, who was on the bus, had traumatized their seven children.

Cogan found that, although "Hamas certainly bears some moral responsibility for the bombing of Bus No. 19. ... there was insufficient evidence to support the jury's finding that plaintiffs had proven Hamas committed these attacks by a preponderance of evidence."

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