NEW YORK (AP) — Steve Averbach was seated on a packed commuter bus in Jerusalem in 2003 when a Hamas suicide bomber disguised as an Orthodox Jew set off an explosion that left the New Jersey native paralyzed.
More than a decade later, Averbach's family — he died in 2010 — and about 140 other American victims of two dozen terror attacks in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank during a Palestinian uprising from 2001 to 2004 want the Jordon-based Arab Bank to pay a price as well.
A civil trial that's set to begin Thursday in federal court in Brooklyn will see the victims try to convince a jury that the bank helped Hamas finance a "death and dismemberment benefit plan" for martyrs. It comes after a lengthy legal battle over what evidence jurors will see and amid a backdrop of renewed hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs call it the first terrorism financing case to go to trial in the United States and say it could result in the bank paying unspecified damages. Arab Bank, which has hundreds of branches around the world, including in New York and in the Palestinian territories, has denied it knew it was doing business with terrorists when it processed electronic transfers.
"Arab Bank has great sympathy for all victims of terrorism but is not liable for the tragic acts described by plaintiffs," it said in a statement.
A lawsuit filed in 2004 accused the bank of violating the U.S. 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 suit accuses Arab Bank of setting up accounts to channel funds from an organization run by the Saudi government, the Saudi Committee for Supporting Al Quds Intifada, to at least two militant groups, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. It also alleges that bank officials were aware that the funds were for an insurance program that provided a standard benefit worth more than $5,000 to the families of Palestinians who were killed in attacks on Israel, including suicide bombers.
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