Published August 15, 2002
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The families of Sept. 11 victims on Thursday filed a federal lawsuit against groups and individuals -- including Usama bin Laden -- who "aided and abetted" the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
"It's not the money. We want to do something to get at these people," said Irene Spina, whose daughter, Lisa L. Trerotola, 38, perished in the World Trade Center. "There's nothing else we can do."
The 258-page complaint, filed electronically in a D.C. federal district court on behalf of more than 600 relatives, lists nearly 100 defendants, including bin Laden, the Bin Laden Corporation, banks, charities and the government of Sudan.
It also includes members of the Saudi royal family and Saudi institutions. Those listed include Mohammed al Faisal al Saud, Turki al Faisal al Saud, and Sultan bin Abdul Aziz al Saud, Khalid bin Salim bin Mahfouz, the National Commercial Bank and the Faisal Islamic Bank
"That kingdom sponsors terrorism," said lead attorney Ron Motley. "This is an insidious group of people."
Motley said the monetary damages his clients seek have not yet been calculated, but he expects they will top the hundreds of billions of dollars and come largely from assets held by the defendants in the United States.
Officials from the Saudi Embassy did not immediately return a call for comment.
President Bush's administration has been careful not to blame the Saudi government for the attacks in its drive to build a coalition for its war against terrorism.
Prince Saud said last week that the 70-year-old U.S.-Saudi alliance was just as solid now as before Sept. 11.
He said bin Laden, who was stripped of Saudi citizenship and who directed the Al Qaeda attacks, had intended to drive a wedge between the two countries when he chose 15 Saudi citizens to be among the 19 hijackers.
The suit, which is expected to eventually include more than 1,000 plaintiffs, makes use of the Anti-Terrorism Claims Act and the recently enacted USA Patriot Act of 2001.
The Anti-Terrorism Claims Act has already been used by other plaintiffs who lost family members to terrorism, most notably the families of victims of Pan Am Flight 103, which crashed in Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.
Millions of dollars have been awarded in such cases including $55.4 million to the family of a Marine colonel murdered in Lebanon in 1989 and $41.2 million to Terry Anderson, the former Associated Press Beirut bureau chief who was held hostage for more than six years.
Justice Department officials are concerned that the complaint might jeopardize family members' abilities to recover under the Victim's Compensation Fund. The fund doesn’t give out money to people who seek damages in federal or state courts.
Motley said that the filing of today's complaint does not bar the family members' eligibility under the Victim's Compensation Fund.
Although those who seek compensation from the fund are prohibited from suing the airlines and the World Trade Center, Motley said, the Patriot Act "entitles, enables, and encourages this kind of lawsuit to be pursued" by victims of terrorism. The complaint asserts that individuals may still be eligible for the fund while also pursuing "civil actions against any person who is a knowing participant in any conspiracy to hijack any aircraft or to commit any terrorist act."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.