Manhattan, NY –On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge George Daniels rejected a request by Saudi Arabia to dismiss lawsuits accusing the nation of assisting in the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001, and asserted jurisdiction based on the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), a federal law passed in 2016. Previously, Saudi Arabia had broad based immunity from 9/11 lawsuits in the United States.
JASTA provides a legal exemption to the principle of sovereign immunity, thus allowing foreign governments to be held liable in U.S. courts. Daniels said the plaintiffs’ allegations “narrowly articulate a reasonable basis” for him to assert jurisdiction under JASTA. However, Daniels dismissed claims against a Saudi construction company and two Saudi banks for allegedly providing material support to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda to carry out the attacks, claiming he lacked jurisdiction.
According to a report by Reuters:
Daniels said the plaintiffs could try to prove that Saudi Arabia was liable for the alleged activities of Fahad al Thumairy, an imam at the King Fahad Mosque in Culver City, California, and Omar al Bayoumi, said to be an intelligence officer.
They were accused of helping two hijackers acclimate themselves to the United States, and begin preparing for the attacks.
Victims’ families, in court documents, highlighted that nearly all of the hijackers were Saudi citizens, and claimed that Saudi officials and institutions “aided and abetted” the attackers in the years leading up to the 9/11 attacks. Reuters reported that “Daniels’ decision covers claims by the families of those killed, roughly 25,000 people who suffered injuries, and many businesses and insurers.”
The government of Saudi Arabia has steadfastly denied involvement in the 9/11 attacks against the World Trade Center and Pentagon, in which nearly 3,000 people were killed. Jim Kreindler, an attorney for roughly 850 victims’ families in the case against the Saudi government, told Reuters on Wednesday he is “delighted” that the judge dismissed Saudi Arabia’s motion.
“We have been pressing to proceed with the case and conduct discovery from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, so that the full story can come to light, and expose the Saudi role in the 9/11 attacks,” he added.
JASTA was vetoed by then-President Barack Obama, who claimed that the bill “could expose U.S. companies, troops and officials to lawsuits in other countries,” but the Senate overrode the veto by an overwhelming margin to adopt the legislation.
Despite the judge’s ruling, there is still a possibility that the federal government could intervene on behalf of the Saudi government. As previously reported by the author for The Free Thought Project in September 2016, a last-minute amendment was inserted into the JASTA legislation called the “Stay of Actions Pending State Negotiations,” which allows the U.S. attorney general or secretary of state to simply “certify” that the U.S. is “engaged in good-faith discussions with the foreign-state defendant concerning the resolution of claims against the foreign state.”
After the amendment was added to the JASTA bill, victims’ families said they felt betrayed by Congress.
How do I feel about the Justice Department being given this power? Not good,” 9/11 widow Kristen Breitweiser told the NY Post. “Their failure to bring their own Saudi indictment reveals how little they care about holding the Saudis accountable for either their funding or operational support of the 9/11 hijackers.
The Middle East Eye reported that “Wednesday’s ruling comes during Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to the US. President Donald Trump heaped praise on the Saudi royal during a meeting at the White House last week.”