NEW YORK (AP) — A federal appeals court on Monday reinstated a lawsuit in which victims of terrorist attacks in Israel accused the National Westminster Bank of supporting Hamas, just hours before a Brooklyn jury ruled against a bank in a similar case.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said the roughly 200 U.S. nationals who brought the lawsuit in 2005 are entitled to a trial to prove their claims against the bank, which is headquartered in the United Kingdom and is a member of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group. The plaintiffs had sought unspecified damages.
Shannon Lynch, a spokeswoman for lawyers representing the bank, declined to comment Monday.
The lawsuit claiming that NatWest violated U.S. laws by providing material support and resources to a terrorist organization had been tossed out by a Brooklyn judge. Hamas was designated by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization in 1997.
The lawsuit said the bank provided support by maintaining accounts and transferring funds for the Palestine Relief & Development Fund, also known as Interpal, from 1987 until 2007. The lawsuit said the organization provided support for Hamas. Interpal was designated by the U.S. Treasury Department as a specially designated global terrorist in August 2003.
In its ruling, the 2nd Circuit said the lower court judge had used the wrong legal standard in deciding to dismiss the lawsuit.
Michael Elsner, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, called the ruling "a victory for victims of terrorism which seek to hold terrorist financiers liable, including financial institutions."
He said in an email that the appeals court had made it clear that "liability may be found where a defendant knowingly or with deliberate indifference provides material support to a terrorist organization."
He said the ruling also is significant because the appeals court held that what matters is whether U.S. law is violated and not whether the alleged conduct was legal in a foreign jurisdiction.
The decision reinstating the case comes just days after a jury in Brooklyn began deciding whether executives at Jordan-based Arab Bank should be held responsible for a wave of suicide bombings in the early 2000s that left several Americans dead or wounded.
On Monday, the jury returned its verdict, finding that the Arab Bank should be held liable. A separate penalty phase will follow. Plaintiff's lawyer Gary Osen said it was the first time a bank has been found liable for knowingly supporting a terrorist group under the Anti-Terrorism Act, which allows victims of U.S. designated foreign terrorist organizations to seek compensation.
Associated Press Writer Tom Hays contributed to this report