A Brooklyn federal judge has upheld a jury verdict finding Arab Bank liable for knowingly supporting terrorist attacks that killed or injured Americans in Israel from 2001 to 2004.
In his 96-page decision, Judge Brian Cogan said there was “ample” evidence for the jury to conclude last Sept. 22 that Arab Bank knew or was “willfully blind” to the fact that it was providing services to Hamas, which carried out the attacks, and routed money to charities that supported Hamas or families of Hamas suicide bombers.
“The verdict was based on volumes of damning circumstantial evidence that defendant knew its customers were terrorists,” Cogan concluded.
The judge also zeroed in on the testimony of Hamas terrorist mastermind Abbas Al-Sayyed.
“The Al-Sayyed confession is a rare, possibly unique, piece of evidence,” he wrote. “A terrorist, who has been convicted in a court of law both of planning a terrorist attack in which some plaintiffs were injured and of leading a Hamas terrorist cell, specifically tells the police that he used money transferred to his Arab Bank account from abroad to further Hamas ‘military activities.’”
Cogan then dismissed the bank’s assertion that this confession was “still not enough because the terrorist stated that he used those funds to purchase rifles rather than bombs.”
About 300 Americans filed the suit, including those injured in 24 attacks or representing family members of those killed or injured. The judge dismissed two of the claims stemming from two of the attacks, citing a lack of proof that Hamas was responsible.
Gary Osen, a lawyer for some of the plaintiffs, told The Jewish Week by phone from Israel that he viewed the judge’s decision as an “exclamation point on the jury’s verdict because it emphatically sets forth in enormous detail why the jury could reach the conclusion it did.”
He added that he was “very gratified the court took the time and trouble to lay out [the trial], and in great detail show how the case played out and why the rulings that were made were appropriate.”
In so doing, Osen said, Cogan was helping the appellate judges understand not just his view of certain legal issues but also the impact of the testimony on the jury.
For instance, the judge cited the testimony of Beverly Milton-Edwards, an author and scholar who has written extensively on Hamas. She was called by the defense as an expert witness to give her assessment of whether 11 charitable committees were controlled by Hamas, as the plaintiffs alleged.
She said they were not, based on her fieldwork and research. But under cross-examination, she admitted she did not read Arabic.
“[The] potential spillover effect on the credibility of defendant’s entire case is … hard to overstate,” Cogan wrote.
“By that point in the trial,” he noted, “I had seen the word ‘Hamas’ in Arabic so many times that I immediately recognized it, and I suspect some of the jury may have as well. Yet the expert had to be prompted before she recognized it, and it only then came out that she could not read Arabic. This was the most dramatic, but not the only, incident of friendly fire directed at the bank by Dr. Milton-Edwards.”
The judge went on to note that her testimony regarding the charities was “directly contradicted by what she had written in her own book about Hamas. Her response to being confronted with that was flippant. She was similarly flippant when her knowledge of Hamas was tested by asking her to identify a picture of Salah Shehadah, the founder of the al-Qassam Brigades. She said she was unable to identify him because of the ‘whole big beard phenomenon,’ suggesting that all terrorists look alike to her.”
Cogan added that there was an “abundance of circumstantial evidence in plaintiffs’ case showing that defendant either had [evidence] or deliberately ignored evidence that it was dealing with Hamas operatives … .”
The court’s decision now clears the way for a new trial to be held July 13 to determine monetary damages Arab Bank must pay the plaintiffs.
In a similar case earlier this year against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization, a Manhattan federal judge found on Feb. 23 that both groups were liable for supporting six terrorist attacks in Israel between 2002 and 2004. They were ordered to pay $655.5 million — reflecting triple damages that accrue from the anti-terrorism law under which the case was brought. An appeal is expected.
Osen said representatives for Arab Bank are “sparing no expense — ours and theirs — in their day-to-day preparation for the [upcoming] damages trial. All indications are that they are in it for the long haul,” rather than trying to settle the case.
He said he expects the trial to last about a month and that the jury award might be perhaps “two or three or four times larger” than the one awarded in the PLO trial, if that case is used as a benchmark.
There are more plaintiffs in this case, he explained, thus “the bank’s legal exposure is greater.”
Osen said “most of the damages relate to non-economic issues — pain and suffering, loss of companionship, as well as the claims of the injured and their family members.”
He added of Cogan’s decision: “This is a resounding victory for all American terror victims who seek redress in American courts.”