NEW YORK – The Saudi Binladin Group is not liable for the Sept. 11 attacks, attorneys for the multinational engineering firm claim, because it made Usama bin Laden surrender his stake in the company 14 years ago.
Responding in federal court to lawsuits over the attacks, the lawyers wrote that in 1993, the terrorist mastermind was forced out as a shareholder in two companies his family owns.
The company filed the defense papers late Friday in U.S. District Court in answer to claims brought by representatives, survivors and insurance carriers of the victims. The plaintiffs, who seek billions of dollars in damages, allege the Saudi Binladin Group, along with numerous banks, charities and individuals worldwide, provided material support and assistance to Al Qaeda prior to the attacks.
The plaintiffs contend Bakr bin Laden -- Usama bin Laden's brother, the senior member of the bin Laden family and chairman of Saudi Binladin Group -- was one of Al Qaeda's principal financiers.
A judge in July had ordered Saudi Binladin Group to provide additional information about where the money for Usama bin Laden's 2 percent stake in the company went.
In the Friday filing, lawyers for Saudi Binladin Group said Bakr Binladin publicly renounced Usama bin Laden in a statement released to the media in February 1994. Two months later, the Saudi government revoked Usama bin Laden's citizenship and froze his assets, the lawyers noted.
These actions, they said, occurred well before the United States first placed Usama bin Laden on its list of designated terrorist individuals and organizations on Aug. 20, 1998.
Usama bin Laden has more than 50 siblings who share in the fortune amassed after Usama's father, Mohammed Binladin, built his construction empire, elevating his family to among the wealthiest in Saudi Arabia. The Al Qaeda founder's financial worth has remained in dispute.
According to the court papers, Saudi Binladin Group was created as the surviving entity of Mohammed Binladin's construction company, which was formed in the 1930s. Mohammad Binladin died in 1967, and ownership of his companies was passed along to his children.
The lawyers said the Saudi Binladin Group had helped the United States, building the King Abdul Aziz Air Base, from which U.S. forces operated during the first Gulf War.
The Sept. 11 commission concluded that the Sudanese government took Usama bin Laden's assets when he left the Sudan in 1996.
"He left Sudan with practically nothing," the commission concluded. "When bin Laden arrived in Afghanistan, he relied on the Taliban until he was able to reinvigorate his fundraising efforts by drawing on ties to wealthy Saudi individuals that he had established during the Afghan war in the 1980s."
Lawyers for the bin Laden family companies have said Usama bin Laden never received any buyout payment. They said the companies consulted with Saudi authorities, who directed that the money be placed in trust outside Usama bin Laden's control.
A message left Monday with a lawyer for the plaintiffs was not immediately returned.