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Arab Bank Reaches Settlement in Suit Accusing It of Financing Terrorism

A Middle Eastern bank has reached a settlement with hundreds of American plaintiffs, including victims of terrorist attacks in Israel, who had filed a lawsuit against the bank accusing it of supporting terrorism.

A spokesman for the bank, Arab Bank, and a spokeswoman for one of the plaintiffs’ law firms confirmed Friday that an agreement had been reached, but declined to offer additional details, including the amount of the settlement.

Last year, a jury in Federal District Court in Brooklyn found Arab Bank liable for financing terrorism by processing transactions for Hamas members. The second phase of the trial, assessing the damages Arab Bank would have to pay to victims of attacks by Hamas, was scheduled to start Monday.

All of the plaintiffs are victims of Hamas attacks or family members of people who were killed.

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A person who had been briefed on the case, but was not authorized to speak publicly about it because details of the settlement were confidential, said that the settlement covered all the claims brought by plaintiffs under the federal Anti-Terrorism Act, a total of about 500 plaintiffs.

About 300 plaintiffs were part of the trial, and 17 of those were included in the phase of the trial set to start Monday, which was meant to be a sort of bellwether for how much the bank might owe.

The Hamas claims were tried first, but there were other claims against Arab Bank involving terrorist groups other than Hamas. Those have not been tried, but plaintiffs in those claims were part of the settlement, the person briefed on the case said.

The first part of the trial, which was about liability, occurred last year. Arab Bank argued that it never knowingly held accounts for terrorists. It said that it screened all of the accounts and transactions it handled against terrorist blacklists, and that the few transactions that got through were attributable to clerical errors, such as a different spelling of a name in Arabic and in English.

The jury in Federal District Court in Brooklyn, however, found the bank liable for supporting 24 terrorist acts in and around Israel. (Judge Brian M. Cogan later dropped two of the attacks, saying the plaintiffs had not shown strongly enough that Hamas committed them, so only 22 remained.)

The case was the first of its kind to go to trial. Banking executives said it set a worrisome precedent, since Arab Bank seemed to follow standard screening procedures to check that its customers were not listed as terrorists. The verdict, they said, could mean banks would pull back from doing work in unstable countries, given the risk that they would later be held liable for financing terrorism.

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(via NY Times)