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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
While acknowledging the odds against them, some 600 family members of September 11 victims filed a $116 trillion lawsuit on 15 counts on Thursday against three Saudi princes, several foreign banks and charities, and the Sudanese government, charging them with financing Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network.
The lawsuit, modelled on the lines of the suit filed against Libya by relatives of the victims of the Pam Am Flight 103 disaster in 1988, seeks to cripple these banks and charities and the Saudi princes as a deterrent to future terrorist-funding activities.
It could not be ascertained if any relatives of Indian, Indian American or other South Asians victims were involved in the lawsuit that was filed as a 258-page complaint and transmitted electronically in the United States district court in Alexandria, Virginia.
The lawsuit charges the defendants with racketeering, wrongful death, negligence, and conspiracy.
The case will be financed from the assets held by the defendants in the US, according to lead attorney Ron Motley.
However, he noted, the plaintiffs are after more institutions than those whose assets have already been frozen by the US treasury. They are also targeting other governments that hosted suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda operatives.
With some of the plaintiffs by his side and blatantly ignoring the American government's delicate diplomatic balancing act with Saudi Arabia, Motley told reporters, "That kingdom [Saudi Arabia] sponsors terrorism. This is an insidious group of people."
He said, "We have every reason to believe that the defendants in this action are still funnelling, laundering and sending money to Al Qaeda, whose spokesperson recently claimed the right to kill four million Americans, of which two million are children, and to use chemical and biological weapons.
"This action is not only about justice and accountability -- it is about protecting all Americans from the future atrocities these barbarians are planning."
But he acknowledged that the plaintiffs had 'no delusions' about the fact that the lawsuit would be a long struggle in court.
Motley said intelligence agencies from five countries had provided the information used in the suit, but refused to disclose their names.
According to the complaint, "Plaintiffs invoke the rule of law to hold those who promoted, financed, sponsored, or otherwise materially supported the acts of barbarism and terror inflicted on September 11, 2001, accountable for their deeds."
It said, "By taking vigorous legal action against the financial sponsors of terror, the plaintiffs will force the sponsors of terror into the light and subject them to the rule of law."
"This civil action," it stated, "seeks to hold those responsible for a more subtle and insidious form of terrorism, that which attempts to hide behind the facade of legitimacy. These entities, cloaked in a thin veil of legitimacy, were and are the true enablers of terrorism."
It said, "The financial resources and support network of these defendants--charities, banks, and individual financiers -- are what allowed the attacks of September 11 to occur. Terrorists like Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network cannot plan, train, and act on a massive scale without significant financial power, coordination, and backing."
The three members of the Saudi royal family named in the suit are former intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal, Defence Minister Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud and Prince Mohammed al-Faisal.
The banks named in the suit are the Al Baraka Investment & Development Corporation, the National Commercial Bank, Faisal Islamic Bank, Al Rajhi Banking and Investment, Al Barakaat Exchange Limited Liability Company, and Dar Al-Maal Al-Islamic and Al Shamal Islamic Bank.
Among the charitable groups and foundations named are the Islamic Relief Organization, Muslim World League, SAAR Foundation, Rabita Trust, Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, Benevolence International Foundation, and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth, many of which operate in South Asian countries too.
Several of the victims' relatives said that though it would be an uphill battle and a long process to collect any damages, the lawsuit would at least be therapeutic.
Irene Spina, whose 38-year-old daughter Lisa Trerotola, was killed in the World Trade Centre, said, "It's not the money. We want to do something to get at these people. There's nothing else we can do."
Thomas E Burnett, Sr, father of 38-year-old Thomas E Burnett, Jr, one of the heroes of United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in rural southwest Pennsylvania, said, "We will move terrorist financing schemes out of the shadows and into the light of day. We will expose for the world the shady underbelly behind the atrocities of 9/11, leaving those with evil intentions nowhere to hide and no place to escape accountability."
"As my son Tom told his wife Deena from the cabin of Flight 93 -- we're going to do something -- today we are going to do something," Burnett said.
William Doyle, father of 25-year-old Joseph Doyle, who worked in the World Trade
Centre, said, "We will cut off the financial pipeline that fuels terrorism here and around the world. We will leave them high and dry, their bankrollers broke and bereft. We will demand accountability and uphold the rule of law. And, above all, we will make our nation and world safer and more secure."
Also joining in the lawsuit was April D Gallop, who survived the attack on the Pentagon along with her then two-and-a-half month-old son, Elisha.
Gallop said, "We will hold those who bankroll terrorism accountable, win justice for the families and survivors, and send a clear and unmistakable message around the world that anyone who finances, supports, or enables terrorists will pay a fearsome price."
"Proud as I was to receive the Purple Heart, I will be even prouder when we bankrupt the sponsors of terrorism and bring them to justice," she said.
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