The Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority routinely killed civilians in Israel, a lawyer for victims of terror attacks told a jury Tuesday at the opening of a U.S. civil trial.
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Attorney Kent Yalowitz made the remarks in a packed Manhattan federal courtroom as an 11-year-old lawsuit came to life with victims of the 2001 to 2004 terror attacks looking on.
Yalowitz introduced some of the plaintiffs sitting in court to the jury, saying they were victimized by suicide bombings sanctioned by the PLO.
"The evidence will show that killing civilians was standard operating procedure for the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority," he said.
The lawyer described the pain of victims of seven shootings and bombings in or near Jerusalem, attacks which killed 33 people and wounded hundreds more, including scores of U.S. citizens.
Payroll records show that the Palestinian Authority "embraced these crimes" by continuing to pay security officials who organized the attacks, even after they were convicted of murder, he said.
A lawyer for the PLO and the PA told the jury that the groups are not to blame for terror attacks in Israel. Attorney Mark Rochon said in his opening statement that seven attacks from 2001 to 2004 were carried out by suicide bombers and gunmen "acting on their own angry, crazy reasons."
He said the organizations are victims of guilt by association with terrorists who are not defendants in a lawsuit brought on behalf of victims.
The 2004 lawsuit sought a billion dollars from the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization, saying they were behind the attacks.
The two groups have argued that the case does not belong in U.S. courts.
U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels told prospective jurors to put aside politics and emotions and to decide the case objectively.
The trial, expected to last up to three months, is occurring despite an unsuccessful last-ditch attempt by the PLO and PA to convince appeals judges that a Manhattan court does not have jurisdiction. The effort was rejected by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The lawsuit brought under the Antiterrorism Act of 1991 is being heard by an anonymous jury.
"The injuries remain very fresh for most of these people," plaintiffs' attorney Phil Horton said in an interview.
Horton said some victims are seeking a sense of closure and many were interested in accountability. Numerous victims were scheduled to testify.
Any damages awarded would be automatically tripled because the claims involved acts of terrorism, he said.
If successful, the plaintiffs expect to recover a substantial amount of any award, he said.
In court papers, lawyers for the PA and PLO say a U.S. court should not have jurisdiction over the case just because the PLO maintains a 12-person office in the United States. They say the PA and PLO's home is in the West Bank and that U.S. activities are a tiny portion of their worldwide activities.
"Given the high stakes, extraordinary burden, and substantial foreign policy consequences associated with bringing a foreign government to trial for supporting terrorism, the trial ... should not go forward in the absence of general personal jurisdiction over them," the lawyers wrote in court papers.
They also said the publicity of the trial, "some of it inevitable, some of it sought by plaintiffs, will undermine the confidence in the PA's ability to govern and contribute to a worsening of tensions in the region at a delicate moment."