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9/11 Kin Expand Suit That Aims to Bankrupt Al Qaeda

November 23, 2002|Henry Weinstein | Times Staff Writer

A $15-trillion lawsuit aimed at bankrupting the alleged financiers of Al Qaeda grew even larger Friday, as the plaintiffs added more than three dozen new defendants, including members of the Saudi royal family.

Relatives of the 3,000 people who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks are named as plaintiffs in the suit, which was filed Aug. 15 and now runs almost 400 pages. The newly amended complaint, filed Friday, alleges that:

* The Saudi American Bank financed Sudanese projects benefiting Osama bin Laden while he and Al Qaeda operated from that country and serves as the Riyadh correspondent for two other banks involved in financing Al Qaeda operations. The bank has an office in New York and is 20% owned by Citibank, though Citibank is not named as a defendant.

* Prince Nayif ibn Abdulaziz, the Saudi interior minister and a member of the royal family, gave Al Qaeda money in support of international terrorism. In addition, as interior minister, he controls the activities of numerous Islamic charities that have helped finance Al Qaeda, the suit alleges.

* Prince Abudullah al Faisal bin Abdulaziz al Saud, the former Saudi health minister and a royal family member, aided Al Qaeda through his role as majority owner of Alfaisaliah Group, which employed an Al Qaeda financier, Muhammed Galeb Kalaje Zouaydi, who is now jailed in Spain awaiting trial.

* Bank al-Taqwa Limited of Nassau, Bahamas, raises, manages, invests and distributes funds for Al Qaeda. President Bush called for a freeze on the bank's assets last November.

* Ary Gold Ltd. of Dubai helped financial officers assisting Al Qaeda to ship large quantities of gold out of Pakistan and Sudan.

Moreover, the complaint contains new allegations against one previously named defendant, Prince Turki al Faisal al Saud, the former Saudi intelligence chief.

The suit cites a sworn statement by Mullah Kakshar, a former Taliban official who has defected, which implicates Turki in large money transfers from wealthy Saudis to the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

The thrust of the lawsuit is that the 186 defendants -- including numerous foreign banks, dozens of Islamic foundations, Osama bin Laden, the Republic of Sudan, an Islamic Cultural Center in Milan and a diamond company in Africa -- knowingly provided money and other aid to terrorists.

This enabled them to perpetrate the Sept. 11 attacks as well as other terrorist acts, the suit alleges.

"This civil action seeks to hold those responsible for a more subtle and insidious form of terrorism, that which attempts to hide behind the facade of legitimacy," the complaint states.

"These entities, cloaked in a thin veil of legitimacy, were and are the true enablers of terrorism.

"Terrorists like Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network do not exist in a vacuum. They cannot plan, train and act on a massive scale without significant financial power, coordination and backing," the complaint adds.

"The day of reckoning" is coming for these defendants, said Ronald L. Motley, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, who is financing the case with some of the many millions of dollars in fees he received for successfully suing the nation's leading cigarette makers.

Motley said his team of lawyers and investigators is receiving assistance from government investigators in 13 countries, including Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Britain, Germany, Israel, Italy, Russia and Spain.

"We have people in London, Belgium, Bosnia as I speak," said Motley, of Mt. Pleasant, S.C.

The suit is expected to benefit from the terrorism insurance law passed this week, which has a provision designed to help victims of terrorism recover their losses.

None of the defendants could be reached Friday.

A spokesman for Sudan said in August that the country had no involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks. The suit contains lengthy allegations that Sudan and two government ministries helped foster Al Qaeda's growth during the 1990s, when Bin Laden lived there.

The Saudi government is not a named defendant in the lawsuit. Still, the complaint acknowledges that the suit may raise questions about whether such a case "interferes with or augments U.S. foreign policy interests."

The suit quotes statements of President Bush, Richard Allen, former national security advisor to President Reagan, and other U.S. government officials on the importance of curbing the flow of cash to terrorists.

While not publicly commenting on the suit, Saudi officials have expressed concern about it to Bush administration officials. News reports in late October said the U.S. might ask a federal district judge in Washington to dismiss the case on grounds that it could be injurious to U.S. relations with the Saudi government.

The plaintiffs, banded together as "the 9/11 Families United to Bankrupt Terrorism," were sufficiently concerned about those reports that they took out a full-page advertisement in the Washington Post on Nov. 1, urging President Bush not to interfere with the case in an attempt to appease Saudi officials.

Spokesmen for the State Department and the White House declined comment Friday. But on the day the families' ad was published, a State Department spokesman said: "At this stage, the Department of State has no plans to intervene in this case."

No one was available for comment at the Saudi Embassy in Washington. Fifteen of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were Saudi citizens.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday, Washington attorney Alan Gerson, Motley's co-counsel, reiterated the concerns of the families and said they had received no response from the White House to their Nov. 1 plea.

Gerson compared the situation to private civil damage suits that arose out of civil rights battles and "bankrupted the Ku Klux Klan."

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