The surviving victims of terrorist attacks cannot easily challenge their perpetrators in a courtroom, but the banks that finance their operations are now fair game.
In Brooklyn, New York, a damages trial was to take place following last year’s ruling that Arab Bank was guilty of financing terrorism by processing transactions of Hamas members, whom are classified as terrorists under U.S. law.
The case is the first of its kind, and could impact the manner in which banks scrutinize their potential customers.
American plaintiffs agreed to a settlement before the trial could be heard, but the Federal District Court in Brooklyn had previously found Arab Bank liable for supporting 22 terrorist acts.
Bank executives are troubled by the precedent because Arab Bank claimed to have followed standard screening procedures concerning the possibility that its customers could be terrorists.
The fear is that banks may begin to refrain from doing businesses in unstable countries, which could be a self-reinforcing policy as the lack of a banking sector causes greater instability.
The claims that were settled all fell under the federal Anti-Terrorism Act passed in 1990, which allows American victims of terrorism abroad to sue for damages in federal court.
The settlement covered the claims of some 500 plaintiffs, which included those involving terrorist groups other than Hamas. The plaintiffs’ case revolved around armed attacks in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
Arab Bank’s defense maintains that all accounts that it approved were checked against terrorist blacklists, and the transactions that were able to get through were due to clerical errors, such as differences in spelling between Arabic and English.
A specific case involved $60,000 transferred to Hamas member Sheikh Ahmed Yassin as a result of a spelling mistake. Other banks that now face similar claims in U.S. courts include HSBC, Bank of China, Credit Lyonnais, and Royal Bank of Scotland.