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9/11 widow attacks Saudi Arabia for attempt to 'delay justice'

The kingdom has dismissed claims that Saudi officials supported those who carried out the New York and Washington attacks
Smoke billows from the World Trade Centre during the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington (AFP)

A 9/11 widow has condemned as "ludicrous" an attempt by Saudi Arabia to dismiss 25 lawsuits claiming that it helped plan the 9/11 attacks and should pay damages to victims.

In a filing in US district court in Manhattan, lawyers for Saudi Arabia said that victims' families cannot show that the kingdom or any affiliated charities were behind the attacks, which claimed nearly 3,000 lives and heralded the start of the so-called War on Terror. They also said Saudi Arabia deserved sovereign immunity.

Terry Strada, who lost her husband Tom in the 2001 attacks on New York, told Middle East Eye that the Saudi attempt was an attempt to "frustrate" justice and followed an "underhanded" lobbying campaign aimed at halting legal challenges against the kingdom over the attacks.

She said: "If the Saudis think they can frustrate our demand for justice through legal delay tactics and endless court filing, they are very wrong.  This recent action by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia only further unites the September 11 families and makes us even more determined to seek long overdue justice".

'Saudi Arabia cannot hide'

Saudi Arabia is being sued for billions of dollars by the families of roughly 2,500 of those killed, more than 20,000 people who suffered injuries, businesses and various insurers.

"It is what we expected," James Kreindler, a lawyer representing around 850 wrongful death claimants in one of the 25 lawsuits, told Reuters.

"We have tons of allegations of what many Saudis and the country's alter ego charities did. Saudi Arabia cannot hide from the facts."

Kreindler and other lawyers acting for family members of 9/11 victims have argued for more than a decade that without the financial and logistical support from members of the government of Saudi Arabia, the 9/11 attacks would never have taken place.

Saudi Arabia denies any role in the attacks and in court on Tuesday lawyers for the country pointed to a CIA document from 2005 which said there was no evidence that Saudi Arabia supported the attack.

However, other reports have made numerous links between Saudi Arabia and the attacker, 15 of whom were Saudi citizens. Several of the hijackers also had met with Saudi nationals with government ties. Meanwhile a trove of declassified documents, originating from a congressional inquiry into the attacks, suggest evidence of collusion between the attackers and Saudi Arabia.

What the US is doing is aggressive deception

- Bob Graham, former US senator 

Earlier this year the former US senator Bob Graham, who was co-chairman of the 9/11 joint inquiry, alleged that the hijackers were connected to Saudi Arabia.

He told the Politico website that he no longer called the US government's actions over the Saudi role a "cover-up". He said that would be a "passive activity. What they're doing now I call aggressive deception."

Last month Middle East Eye revealed that families of hundreds of people killed in the 9/11 attacks are also considering adding the United Arab Emirates as a defendant to a legal case against Saudi Arabia for its roles in the outrage.

However, the main focus of lawyers has been on Saudi Arabia, which it is alleged helped support the attack through its alleged funding of al-Qaeda training camps and its support for the group, including weapons, funding and logistical support.

The legal teams representing victims' families faced a major setback in September 2015 when a US district Judge dismissed claims against Saudi Arabia.

But last September, the US Congress overrode a veto by then-president Barack Obama and adopted the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which permits such claims to proceed. This came despite Saudi Arabia's lobbying efforts to prevent JASTA from becoming law.

In Tuesday's filing, Saudi Arabia acknowledged that JASTA eliminated some of its defences. 

But it said the plaintiffs still could not show that any Saudi official, employee or agent planned or carried out the attacks.

Terry Strada, second from left, speaks at a press conference in Washington DC in March 2014 (AFP)

Strada, who has been an active campaigner for 9/11 families, said: "In Saudi Arabia's multimillion dollar campaign to prevent JASTA from being US law, it hired a hundred or more foreign agents, including a dozen of the nation's most prominent lobbying firms, many who reportedly used underhanded tactics to achieve their goal.

"After spending millions to oppose JASTA by claiming it would cause grave damage to US-Saudi relations, the Saudis sudden reversal - claiming that JASTA's passage had no effect on the court's jurisdiction over our claims - more than strains credibility."

Tasked with destruction?

It said this included Omar al-Bayoumi, said to be a Saudi intelligence officer who met with two hijackers in San Diego and been "tasked" to help them, including by finding an apartment and opening a bank account.

"Neither proper allegations nor any evidence support plaintiffs' conclusory assertions that Saudi Arabia caused the 9/11 attacks by knowingly or even recklessly aiding the terrorists who committed them," the kingdom said.

Saudi Arabia also suggested that JASTA might violate the US constitution if Congress passed it to dictate the result in this lawsuit, encroaching on courts' power to decide cases.

Obama had warned that the law could expose US companies, troops and officials to lawsuits in other countries.

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