NEW YORK (AP) — Five relatives of Osama bin Laden and a construction company started by the father of the al-Qaida founder cannot be held liable for the Sept. 11 attacks, a federal appeals court said Tuesday, upholding the findings of a lower-court judge.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reached the conclusion as it reinstated claims against 12 other defendants accused of enabling organizations set up as charities to support al-Qaida, saying evidence may be found to show they provided material support to al-Qaida.
The rulings stem from lawsuits brought against several hundred defendants by more than 3,000 survivors of the attacks, relatives, victims' representatives and insurance carriers. Among defendants were al-Qaida, its members and associates, along with charities, banks, front organizations, terrorist organizations and financiers.
Attorney Don Migliori said plaintiffs were pleased that claims will proceed against 12 defendants but were "very disappointed that the Second Circuit has otherwise failed to uphold Congress' clear intent to give victims of acts of terror against American interests the ability to hold those who sponsor terrorism accountable for their heinous actions."
He added: "Clearly, terrorism has found its way into the United States and our U.S. courts are far too slow to see the importance of the civil justice system as a forum for the true victims of these acts to demand answers and accountability."
Messages left with other attorneys in the case were not immediately returned.
In a ruling written by Circuit Judge Jose A. Cabranes, a three-judge panel decided that all but 12 of 37 defendants dismissed from the lawsuits by Judge George Daniels were properly rejected because the court lacked jurisdiction for lawsuits seeking to hold them accountable.
Among those rejected were four bin Laden relatives who purportedly managed the Saudi Binladen Group, one of the largest engineering and construction companies in the Arab world and a successor to a construction company founded by bin Laden's father. A fifth bin Laden relative alleged to have been involved in two purported charities located in the United States that were alleged to have supported al-Qaida also was rejected, along with the company itself.
The plaintiffs had claimed that the bin Laden business maintained a close relationship to bin Laden leading up to the attacks and cited business activities by a now-defunct subsidiary and by an employee who worked from his North Carolina residence as evidence that a U.S. court should have jurisdiction.
It said the company provided "significant support to bin Laden before he was removed as a shareholder in 1993 with knowledge that he was targeting the United States" and continued to provide a "financial lifeline" to him afterward.
The 2nd Circuit said the company and the bin Laden relatives were properly dismissed because there was insufficient evidence to support claims against them. It noted that Daniels had concluded that the only company distributions to bin Laden for his role as a shareholder came before 1993.
The World Trade Center was first attacked by terrorists on Feb. 26, 1993, when a bomb exploded in an underground garage, killing six people and injuring more than 1,000 others.
The appeals court said it found no reason to question Daniels' finding that support supposedly given to bin Laden by his family after 1993 and after he was removed as a shareholder from the company had no evidentiary support.
The 2nd Circuit restored claims against a dozen defendants accused of using their "charity" offices as purported al-Qaida front organizations to support terrorism.
Those defendants were accused in the lawsuits of sending financial and other material support directly to al-Qaida when the organization was known to be targeting the United States.
The appeals court said those defendants were "one step closer to al-Qaida" than the others, but it said it still needed to be ascertained when the alleged support was supposedly given, what it was, whether the support was meant to be aimed at the U.S. or how the defendants were involved in the process of providing it.