Mon, Nov 17, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Judge rules Saudis beyond reach of American courts


Saudi Arabia's defense minister and its former intelligence chief, who have denied allegations in a US$1 trillion lawsuit tying them to the Sept. 11 attacks, are beyond the reach of US courts, a federal judge ruled.

The suit filed by victims and survivors of the 2001 attacks accused the Saudis of having long, personal relationships with Saudi-born fugitive Osama bin Laden and officials of the Afghan Taliban militia.

The officials are the defense minister, Prince Sultan, and Prince Turki al-Faisal, former director of general intelligence and now the Saudi ambassador in Britain.

The suit also alleged that Prince Sultan had donated millions of dollars to Saudi charities that subsequently forwarded the money to bin Laden's al-Qaeda network and other terrorist organizations.

In an order issued Friday, US District Judge James Robertson ruled that his court lacked jurisdiction under both international and US law and dismissed all claims against the two Saudi officials.

Both men had claimed foreign sovereign immunity, which protects sovereign governments from such suits. Robertson's order said a 1976 US law that limits sovereign immunity under certain circumstances also did not apply to them. He said both princes vehemently denied the allegations, but his ruling did not deal with whether they were true.

In July, Robertson denied petitions to dismiss claims against defendant Soliman Khudeira, a Saudi bank and two Muslim charities.

The suit, filed in August last year in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, seeks US$1 trillion in damages for survivors of more than 900 victims of the terror attacks in New York and Washington and other injured firefighters and rescue workers.

The complaint names more than seven dozen defendants, including the government of Sudan, seven banks and eight Islamic foundations.

Lawyers said a primary purpose of the suit was to choke off terrorists' financial resources.

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