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A civil suit against the Port Authority over the 1993 World Trade Center bombing appeared ready to take another step toward a trial Tuesday, when a panel of appellate justices expressed serious doubts over the agency’s claim that it could not be held liable for the attack. At afternoon arguments in Manhattan, five justices of the Appellate Division, 1st Department, suggested that the attack was foreseeable and questioned why the Port Authority did not react to several detailed reports that had expressed grave concerns over security at the building’s parking garage. Both internal and outside experts had recommended that the Port Authority close the garage to public parking to prevent a bombing, but the agency did not take the precaution. It determined that the step would inconvenience tenants and cost the building revenue. On Feb. 26, 1993, a vehicle packed with explosives was detonated inside the garage, killing six people. The force of the blast was equivalent to that of 1,500 pounds of dynamite. The explosion left a crater six stories deep. In January, Justice Stanley Sklar of Manhattan Supreme Court ruled that the victims of the attack could sue the Port Authority. He said that the agency’s claim that the bombing was not foreseeable “strained credulity.” Tuesday, Port Authority staff attorney Arnold D. Kolikoff was greeted with equal skepticism by the 1st Department panel. Justices James M. Catterson and George D. Marlow led the barrage against Kolikoff. Victor A. Kovner of Davis Wright Tremaine, who represents the plaintiffs, elicited just as many affirmative remarks as questions during his moments at the podium. Justices Catterson and Marlow repeatedly interrupted Kolikoff. Marlow several times asked what he described as a narrow question: “Did any of those reports motivate you to do anything at all?” Kolikoff tried to argue that the reports warned of broad threats, not any specific or imminent terrorist act that should have inspired a specific response. During rebuttal, he said the agency modified its security plan, increased plainclothes patrols of the Trade Center site and improved the lighting in the garage. “Virtually none of that has to do with the parking garage other than the lighting,” Catterson said. He said that if the Port Authority was going to argue that such minor changes amounted to increased security, “I would suggest to you that it is a tough row to hoe.” At one point, Justice Joseph Sullivan asked, “What could be a bigger target, a bigger symbol, of capitalistic success?” Kolikoff answered, “the Empire State Building,” referring to a fatal 1997 shooting on the landmark’s observation deck, for which the building was not held liable. Sullivan rejected the comparison, saying that the assailant, who killed one person and later killed himself, was deranged. The building had not been warned against attacks by security experts and the incident was not considered terrorism, the judge said. Justice Betty Weinberg Ellerin asked Kovner what the Port Authority ought to have done in response to the reports. He replied that the parking garage should have been limited to tenants. Kolikoff tried to defuse that argument by pointing out that at the time of the attacks, only five buildings in the United States had such limited parking. “How many Trade Centers were there in the United States of America?” Catterson immediately asked. Kovner also disputed the number, claiming more landmark buildings had taken the precaution. Justice Alfred D. Lerner also was on the panel.

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