Arab Bank never financed terrorism, its lawyer tells Brooklyn trial

Raffi Wineburg

NEW YORK (JTA) — A lawyer for Arab Bank, which is accused of providing financial services to Hamas, told a Brooklyn federal court that the bank never helped finance terrorism.

Shand Stephens in closing arguments Thursday argued that none of the bank’s clients had been designated as terrorists by the United States during the relevant time period.

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“The bank does not figure out who the criminals are,” Stephens was reported as saying by Reuters. “The government is supposed to designate people, and the banks react.”

Nearly 300 U.S. citizens — the victims or relatives of victims of 24 attacks that Hamas allegedly carried out in Israel, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank between 2001 and 2004 — filed their suit against the Jordan-based bank in 2004. The U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act allows victims of U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations, like Hamas, to seek compensation.

Stephens has acknowledged that the bank did provide services to Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin, who was on a U.S. blacklist, but only because the bank’s spelling of his name differed from that on the list maintained by the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Tab Turner, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said it strained credulity that the bank could not identify high-profile members of Hamas such as Yassin, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The Journal reported that the case is the first terror-financing suit against a bank ever to go to trial in the United States.