Arab Bank Questions Hamas Links in Terror-Funding Trial

Arab Bank Plc, accused in a U.S. trial of helping finance suicide bombings in and near Israel by processing transactions to benefit Hamas, sought to cast doubt on victims’ claims the attacks were caused by the Palestinian militant group.

Ronni Shaked, an Israeli researcher and journalist who testified that Hamas was likely behind all 24 attacks at issue in the case, faced questions from a lawyer for the bank yesterday about claims of responsibility by other militant groups, such as Islamic Jihad and al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.

After a bus bombing in Jerusalem in August 2003, it was a “very, very sensitive time for Hamas,” Shaked said, speaking in Hebrew through a translator in federal court in Brooklyn, New York. The group had broken a temporary truce and “was happy to let Islamic Jihad take responsibility,” he said.

The Jordanian bank, based in Amman and the country’s largest, is facing claims for damages brought on behalf of almost 300 U.S. citizens who were either victims of attacks in the early 2000s or their relatives. A verdict for the plaintiffs could raise questions about whether banks are doing enough to prevent money from reaching terrorists.

The bank has argued it provided “routine banking services” and “had no intention of providing support to Hamas or any other known terrorist organization.”

Rebuilding Economy

Founded in Jerusalem about 18 years before Israel was established, the bank has been committed to rebuilding the Palestinian economy and “emerged as the main vehicle for the payments by the international donor community,” former Chief Banking Officer Shukry Bishara, now the Palestinian finance minister, said in a filing with the court.

In recorded testimony played earlier this week, Bishara and other employees of the bank were asked to explain how the institution came to approve transfers that were made out to Hamas, which was designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S in 1997. The transfers were sent to a Beirut-based account opened by a spokesman for the organization, Osama Hamdan, plaintiffs in the case alleged.

At the time of the transfers, the bank had no knowledge the owner of the account had any connection to the group, Bishara said in recorded testimony. After discovering the account number on what the plaintiffs allege was an official Hamas website, the bank closed the account, he said.

Account Closed

“The bank in Lebanon was instructed to close the account and report it immediately to the appropriate authorities,” Bishara said. “We did not want to work with them. We did not want his business.”

In an earlier filing with the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to consider the bank’s appeal of sanctions issued against it in the case, the Obama administration called the bank “a constructive partner with the United States in working to prevent terrorist financing.”

The case is Linde v. Arab Bank Plc, 04-cv-02799, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).

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