Judge remains skeptical Sept. 11 Saudi claims can proceed

AP News
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Posted: Jan 18, 2018 3:59 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — A judge who previously rejected arguments that Saudi Arabia was behind the Sept. 11 attacks expressed doubts again Thursday after claims were revived by congressional action.

U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels in Manhattan questioned lawyers for families and survivors of the 2001 attacks as well as attorneys for Saudi Arabia during a daylong hearing. He did not immediately rule, and a written decision was likely weeks or months away.

The latest round of arguments arose after Congress passed the 2016 Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act over then-President Barack Obama's veto, allowing the claims to go forward against Saudi Arabia after they were rejected once in the courts. Some families of 9/11 victims cheered the law, hoping to see their day in court and obtain financial damages.

On Thursday, attorney Sean Carter argued on behalf of plaintiffs, including insurance companies and businesses, that al-Qaida was propped up by millions of dollars and years of support from Saudi Arabia prior to the attacks.

"Over the course of a decade, it was Saudi Arabia that enabled al-Qaida to build its network," Carter said.

Daniels challenged the claims in the 15-year-old litigation that Saudi Arabia could be held responsible in the terrorist attacks even if it never agreed to support the terrorists and wasn't aware that money it gave to charities in the Middle East may have made it to Osama bin Laden's group.

"If I gave you $10 and you went and bought $5 of ice cream, why is it that I gave you $5 to buy ice cream?" he asked.

Later, Daniels asked: "So every terrorist act al-Qaida commits Saudi Arabia is responsible for?"

Hundreds of victims' relatives and injured survivors, along with injured corporations, sued the Saudi government in 2003, saying its employees knowingly assisted hijackers who carried out the attacks and fueled al-Qaida's development into a terrorist organization by funding charities that supported the group.

Fifteen of the 19 attackers were Saudis. The U.S. investigated some Saudi diplomats and others with Saudi government ties who knew hijackers after they arrived in the U.S., according to now-declassified documents.

The 9/11 Commission report found "no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded" the attacks al-Qaida masterminded, but the commission also noted "the likelihood" that Saudi-government-sponsored charities did.

Attorney Michael Kellogg, arguing for Saudi Arabia, cited the report repeatedly, along with the findings of probes by the FBI and CIA.

"All rejected Saudi Arabia was responsible," he said.

In initially rejecting the case against Saudi Arabia in 2015, Daniels characterized new claims by the plaintiffs as "entirely conclusory" or "largely boilerplate."

Still, Daniels gave plaintiffs some hope that Saudi Arabia might remain a defendant when he said the findings of the 9/11 Commission were not necessarily the last word.

"I'm not quite sure what I'm supposed to do with the report's ultimate conclusion or the facts, whether they're sufficient for this court to independently reach those conclusions," he said.