- The Washington Times - Friday, August 16, 2002

More than 600 family members of the victims of the September 11 attacks filed a trillion-dollar lawsuit yesterday seeking damages from defendants that include Saudi Arabian princes, the government of Sudan, banks, Muslim charities and other groups they accuse of helping finance the al Qaeda terrorist network.

The 15-count civil suit brought by Families United to Bankrupt Terrorism also targets Osama bin Laden, the head of the al Qaeda organization and the mastermind behind the attacks on the United States that killed more than 3,000 people. Also named in the suit is Afghanistan's former Taliban militia, which harbored the Saudi exile and his terrorist network.

More than seven dozen defendants are named in the suit, including three members of the Saudi royal family: Prince Mohammed al-Faisal al-Saud, Prince Turki al-Faisal al-Saud and Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud; seven banks, including institutions in Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Switzerland and Somalia; and eight Muslim charities that the plaintiffs say are fronts for terrorism.

"The 258-page complaint seeks to cut off the pipeline that fueled the al Qaeda terrorists. The complaint puts the damages in excess of $1 trillion," said Anne McGinness Kearse, a lawyer with the national firm of Ness, Motley, P.A., based in Mount Pleasant, S.C.

The complaint charges the defendants with racketeering, wrongful death, negligence and conspiracy.

While the Bush administration has taken pains not to implicate the Saudi government in the September 11 attacks, as it wants their help in the war against terrorism, the suit filed yesterday blames Saudi Arabian leaders and institutions for the terrorist assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"That kingdom sponsors terrorism. This is an insidious group of people," Ron Motley, a partner in the Ness, Motley firm and lead attorney in the case, told reporters yesterday at a news conference in the District, where he announced the filing.

The name of the lawsuit is Burnett et al. vs. Al Baraka Investment and Development Corporation et al. The corporation is a Saudi bank. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington.

There have been news reports of the links between members of the Saudi government and bin Laden's terrorist network.

In a report last fall, the Boston Herald said the "nature of Saudi funding" for bin Laden's network is "suggested by the fact that Prince Mohammed al-Faisal al-Saud a cousin of King Fahd heads the Dar al-Mal al-Islami bank, which joined bin Laden in founding the Al Shamal Bank in Sudan." The newspaper said its information came from a report prepared for the French intelligence service.

The Al Shamal Bank is listed as a defendant in the suit filed yesterday. The bank was controlled directly by bin Laden, according to a 1996 State Department report cited by the Boston Herald.

"The close relationship between Osama bin Laden and certain of the highest members of the Saudi royal family stretches back for a long period and continues to this day," the lawsuit says.

The defendant known as Prince Sultan is Saudi Arabia's second deputy prime minister, minister of defense and aviation, inspector general and chairman of the board of Saudi Arabian Airlines. Prince Turki is a former head of Saudi intelligence.

The suit was modeled after one filed against Libya in the Pan Am Flight 103 disaster in 1988. That lawsuit is pending.

Stephen Push, a northern Virginia man whose wife was killed on the flight that hit the Pentagon on September 11, yesterday criticized the representation he received from the Ness, Motley firm, along with co-counsel, Allan Gerson, who is an independent lawyer in Washington. Mr. Push said he fired those lawyers last month and is looking for new ones. He said their investigation has not been thorough enough an assertion vehemently denied by Ms. Kearse.

Mr. Push said "it's not clear to me" why Sudan is named as a defendant in the suit he's no longer part of. "I'm focusing on Saudi Arabia. I think the Saudis have been the major funders of al Qaeda. I think the Saudis are the roots of the problem," he said.

While some reports described the litigation as a class-action lawsuit, Ms. Kearse denied that. "It's not a class-action suit. It's a consolidated action on behalf of 600 families [of the September 11 victims]. We filed jointly," she said.

Altogether, there are 900 plaintiffs, including spouses, children, siblings and parents of those who perished, as well as survivors of the terrorist attacks. The plaintiffs are from 20 states and the District of Columbia, plus the nations of Canada, Argentina, France, Paraguay and South Africa.

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