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Lawsuit against Saudi Arabia for involvement in 9/11 terror attacks moves forward

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] on Wednesday denied [order, PDF] Saudi Arabia's motion to dismiss a lawsuit for involvement in the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Victims and families of victims originally brought suit against Saudi Arabia and the Saudi High Commission for Relief in Bosnia and Herzegovina (SHC). The claim against Saudi Arabia alleged responsibility for its agents who "directly and knowingly assisted the hijackers and plotters who carried out the attacks." The claim against the SHC was that charity organizations under its control gave "financial and operational support" to al Qaeda, allowing the group to conduct the attacks.

During the original suit, defendants Saudi Arabia and the SHC moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) [text] of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The defendants based the dismissal on the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), 28 USC §1602 [text], claiming that there was no evidence that an official of either Saudi Arabia or the SHC committed a tortious act entirely within the United States as part of their employment. The district court had previously granted the motions and the plaintiff's appealed.

While on appeal, Congress passed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), 28 USC §1605B [text], that allows the court jurisdiction over foreign powers in actions brought for injury in the United States caused by an act of terrorism. The case was remanded to the district court to consider the defendants' immunity in light of the new legislation.

Saudi Arabia and the SHC moved to dismiss under rule 12(b)(1) again claiming that JASTA did not affect their immunity and additionally asserting that JASTA was unconstitutional for interfering with the courts' power to "decide cases and controversies free from congressional control."

Presiding judge George Daniels determined that JASTA's purpose of giving litigants relief against foreign countries that have supported organizations that committed acts of terror against the US, creates an exception to the FSIA. This exception has four elements: (1) physical injury/death in the US; (2) an act of international terrorism in the US and a tortious act by a foreign state or official, agent, etc acting within their employment; (3) causation; and (4) damages.

The court dismissed the suit against the SHC as plaintiffs' claims did not make specific allegations that the SHC or its agents acting within their employment, provided support to al Qaeda in planning the 9/11 attacks. All of the factual allegations relating to SHC support of al Qaeda were "far removed, both in time and place, from the 9/11 attacks."

The court found that allegations on the four elements for two of the eight individuals mentioned as agents in the lawsuit were "sufficient to create a reasonable basis ... to exercise jurisdiction" over Saudi Arabia.

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