US jury blames PLO for attacks
A US jury has decided that Palestinian authorities should be held responsible for terrorist attacks in Israel that killed or wounded Americans.
Jurors also awarded the victims 218.5 million US dollars (£141.3 million) in damages.
The jury reached the decision at a civil trial in federal court in Manhattan. The US Anti-Terrorism Act could allow for that award to be tripled.
The plaintiffs sued the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the Palestinian Authority in 2004 under the US Anti-Terrorism Act, which allows victims of US-designated foreign terrorist organisations to seek compensation.
The plaintiffs said internal documents showed that Palestinian authorities sanctioned six attacks from 2002 to 2004 that harmed 10 American families. Defence lawyers argued that the attackers acted on their own.
The Palestinian Authority, which had argued that the attackers acted on their own, said it would appeal.
"The charges that were made against us are baseless," deputy minister of information Mahmoud Khalifa said.
None of the victims was in the courtroom for the verdict, but their lawyers called it a victory in the fight against terrorism.
"It's about accountability. It's about justice," lawyer Kent Yalowitz said. He and a lawyer with the Israel Law Centre, which helped with the case, vowed to collect the damages by pursuing Palestinian Authority and PLO bank accounts, securities accounts, real estate and other property that may be in the US, Israel and elsewhere.
"Now, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority know there is a price," said Israel Law Centre spokesman Nitsana Darshan-Leitner.
Mr Yalowitz had urged the Manhattan jury to order the PLO and Palestinian Authority to pay 350 million dollars (£226 million) for providing material support to terrorists involved in the six bombings and shootings.
No amount could make up for the human toll, he said. "But if the only thing you can give them is money, then money has to stand in as compensation for the unspeakable loss," he added.
Defence lawyer Mark Rochon had argued there was no proof that Palestinian authorities sanctioned the attacks as alleged in a 2004 lawsuit brought by 10 American families, even though members of their security forces were convicted in Israeli courts on charges they were involved.
"What they did, they did for their own reasons ... not the Palestinian Authority's," he said.
The suit against the PLO and Palestinian Authority and another against the Jordan-based Arab Bank had languished for years as the defendants challenged the American courts' jurisdiction. Recent rulings found that they should go forward under the Anti-Terrorism Act.
The plaintiffs also relied on internal records showing the Palestinian Authority continued to pay the salaries of employees who were put behind bars in terror cases and paid benefits to families of suicide bombers and gunmen who died committing the attacks.