US court refuses to throw out lawsuits linking Saudis to 9/11
A US court has rejected Saudi Arabia's request to throw out lawsuits claiming the Middle Eastern nation helped plan the 9/11 terror attacks.
District judge George Daniels said there was "a reasonable basis" to allow legal action seeking billions of dollars in damages for victims.
The Saudi government has long denied involvement in the attacks, which claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people when hijacked aeroplanes crashed into New York's World Trade Centre, the Pentagon, and a Pennsylvania field.
Lawyers representing the families of those killed and about 25,000 people who were injured, as well as businesses and insurers affected, filed 25 lawsuits against the Saudis in New York last year.
Saudi Arabia argued the plaintiffs in the legal action could not show the kingdom or any affiliated charities were behind the attacks. It also claimed it deserved sovereign immunity and asked for the lawsuits to be dismissed.
But Mr Daniels said the allegations "narrowly articulate a reasonable basis" for him to assert jurisdiction over Saudi Arabia under the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA).
"This is a historic day for the families," said Sean Carter, a lawyer for many plaintiffs.
But Mr Daniels dismissed claims that two Saudi banks and a construction company controlled by the bin Laden family had provided funds for the attacks, saying he lacked jurisdiction.
He also rejected claims against the state-affiliated charity Saudi High Commission for Relief of Bosnia and Herzegovina, saying the plaintiffs' "guilt-by-association" allegations did not overcome its presumption of immunity.
Saudi Arabia had long enjoyed broad immunity from 9/11 lawsuits in the US.
That changed in September 2016, when the US Congress overrode a veto by president Barack Obama and adopted the JASTA, which permits such claims to proceed.
Mr Daniels said the plaintiffs could try to prove that Saudi Arabia was liable for the alleged activities of Fahad al Thumairy, an imam at the King Fahad Mosque in Culver City, California, and Omar al Bayoumi. They were accused of helping two hijackers settle in the US and begin preparing for the attacks.
James Kreindler, a lawyer for families bringing wrongful death claims, said: "The full story can come to light, and expose the Saudi role," he said.
Fifteen of the 19 terrorists in the 9/11 attacks were Saudis. But the 9/11 Commission report found "no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded" the attacks al-Qa'ida masterminded.
But the commission also noted "the likelihood" that Saudi government-sponsored charities did.