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A Saudi government-sponsored charity and a pair of Saudi princes are immune from suits filed by insurance carriers and Sept. 11 survivors who claim the group provided financing to terrorists, a New York federal judge has ruled. U.S. District Judge Richard Casey of the Southern District of New York on Sept. 21 found that the Saudi High Commission was shielded from suit under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. But the judge, who issued one ruling that addressed three separate cases related to terrorism financing, found that lawsuits alleging that a private Muslim charity with ties to Northern Virginia funded terrorist activities can go forward. Originally assigned to Judge James Robertson in the Federal District Court in Washington, D.C., one of the cases, Burnett v. Al Baraka Inv. & Dev. Co., was moved to New York in 2004 with other Sept. 11-related claims. The Saudi High Commission has immunity because it was “formed by order of the Kingdom’s governing body,” was governed by a Saudi official and provided the Saudi government’s official aid to Bosnia, and its employees are civil servants, Casey wrote in his decision regarding three of the several cases connected to the Sept. 11 attacks that have been consolidated before him by the Panel on Multi-District Litigation. Lawrence Robbins of Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck & Untereiner in Washington represents the commission. Casey also made a similar finding on claims brought by representatives, survivors, and insurance carriers of the families of Sept. 11 victims against the commission’s president, Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, and the Saudi Interior Minister, Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud. The plaintiffs say that both provided material support to al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. William Jeffress Jr. of Baker Botts in Washington, who represents Prince Salman, says that even if the funds were dispersed to terrorist groups, his client would not have known about it. James Cole of Bryan Cave represents Prince Naif. In the Northern Virginia charity case, the plaintiffs allege the International Islamic Relief Organization of Saudi Arabia supported terror worldwide by financing al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. The suit alleges the group was involved with bombings in Jordan during the 1990s and at the World Trade Center in 1994. The organization, which allegedly supported an al Qaeda guest house and had been involved in several al Qaeda attacks, did have sufficient ties to the United States to be sued in federal court here, Casey said. He did not rule on claims that the group supported terrorist organizations. But the IIRO’s defense lawyer, Washington-based attorney Martin McMahon, says that several years ago the group had severed ties with a Falls Church-based charity that was raided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York and at the Pentagon. McMahon says the claims are imprecise. “If you are wealthy and a Saudi, you’re in this lawsuit,” McMahon says. “There are a lot of scandalous accusations being made.” Casey’s rulings were among several made on jurisdictional issues in three cases: Ashton v. al-Qaida Islamic Army, Federal Insurance v. al-Qaida, and Burnett v. Al Baraka Inv. & Dev. Co. Andrew Maloney III, a partner with Kreindler & Kreindler in New York who represents the plaintiffs in Ashton, says that foreign sovereign immunities can be difficult to weigh in the context of Saudi Arabia, which has a vast royal family. And many of the Saudi defendants claim to “be a part of the government in some way,” Maloney says. “It’s hard to make a distinction, frankly, in Saudi Arabia when a member of the royal family acts as government official versus when they act as an individual.” After Casey’s rulings on at least a dozen other motions to dismiss in similar cases later this fall, discovery is expected to begin in the cases that remain, Maloney says. The Saudi High Commission, formed in 1993, allegedly contributed $600 million in aid to Bosnian Muslims impoverished by the civil war in the former Yugoslavia. But the plaintiffs charge that the commission did not actually provide support for needy Bosnian Muslims. Instead, they claim, the commission diverted funds to support terrorist activities. One example they cited was $41 million that the commission was unable to account for. Moreover, they charged that al Qaeda fighters entered Bosnia-Herzegovina disguised as commission relief workers. After the Sept. 11 attacks, the plaintiffs alleged, U.S. forces, in a raid on the Sarajevo branch of the commission, found computer hard drives with photographs of the World Trade Center before and after its destruction, as well as photos of the destruction of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole. Also found, they said, were files on pesticides and crop dusters and the locations of government buildings in Washington. The Saudi High Commission, the plaintiffs claim, “has long acted as a fully integrated component of al Qaeda’s logistical and financial support infrastructure,” and the Sept. 11 attacks were a “direct, intended and foreseeable product of [its] participation in al Qaeda’s jihadist campaign.” One problem for the Federal Insurance plaintiffs, Casey said, was that their complaint alleged that the Saudi High Commission is an “agency, instrumentality and organ” of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The plaintiffs argued that if the princes and the charity were complicit in terrorism by financing it, they would not escape liability under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act anyway, because that immunity is lifted in some situations — for example, acts of torture that occur in the United States. Casey said that the commission and the princes were not accused of being the actual perpetrators of the attacks but of conspiring or aiding and abetting. “Even if Plaintiffs alleged that SHC was tortuously liable for the attacks of Sept. 11, such allegations could not overcome the discretionary function exception,” which is designed to prevent “judicial second-guessing” through tort actions of “decisions grounded in social, economic and political policy,” Casey said.
Mark Hamblett is a staff writer for the New York Law Journal , an ALM publication. Lily Henning can be reached at [email protected].

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