NEW YORK (Reuters) – A US judge on Wednesday has denied Saudi Arabia's offer to reject claims for alleged terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and to pay the victims billions of dollars in damages.
U.S. District Judge George Daniels in Manhattan said the plaintiffs' allegations constitute "a reasonable basis" for him to enforce jurisdiction over Saudi Arabia under the JASTA Act, a federal law of 2016.
The Saudi government has long denied involvement in the attacks, in which kidnapped planes crashed into the New York World Trade Center, the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania field. Almost 3,000 people died.
Saudi Arabia lawyers have not responded immediately to requests for comment on the decision. A Saudi New York Stock Exchange asked if the court ruling would have a negative impact on Saudi investment in the United States. Capital Market Authority Chairman Mohammed A. ElKuwaiz declined comment and said he had not seen the news.
Daniel's decision concerns the claims of families of those killed, about 25,000 injured and many companies and insurers.
The judge also denied allegations, including two Saudi banks, the National Commercial Bank and Al Rajhi Bank, and the Saudi Binladin Group, a construction company controlled by the Bin Laden family, had provided funds and financial services for the attacks.
Saudi Arabia has long had extensive immunity to the September 11 lawsuits in the United States.
That changed in September 2016, when the US Congress lifted President Barack Obama's veto on JASTA and allowed such cases to continue.
Obama had warned that the law could sentence US companies, troops and officials in other countries to trial.
Daniels said the plaintiffs could prove that Saudi Arabia is responsible for the alleged activities of Fahad al Thumairy, an imam at the King Fahad Mosque in Culver City, California, and Omar al Bayoumi, an intelligence official.
They were charged with helping two kidnappers get used to the United States and preparing for the attacks.
Saudi Arabia argued that the plaintiffs could not prove that a Saudi official, employee or agent had planned or carried out the attacks.
James Kreindler, lawyer for many of the plaintiffs, said he was "pleased" that the case could continue.
"We urge the case to continue and make a discovery from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to bring the whole story to light and expose the Saudi role in the 9/11 attacks," he said in an interview telephone interview.
The judge also dismissed claims against Relief of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Saudi Arabia's state aid agency, saying the plaintiffs' "guilty-by-association" claims did not overcome their presumption of immunity.
The case is In re: Terrorist Attacks on September 11, 2001, US District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 03-md-01570.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Tom Brown and Grant McCool