US judge dismisses claims against Saudi Arabia by families of Sept 11 victims

A flower is seen placed during a ceremony marking the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum on Sept 11, 2015.
A flower is seen placed during a ceremony marking the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum on Sept 11, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A United States judge on Tuesday (Sept 29) dismissed claims against Saudi Arabia by families of victims of the Sept 11, 2001, attacks, who accused the country of providing material support to Al-Qaeda.

US District Judge George Daniels in Manhattan said Saudi Arabia had sovereign immunity from damage claims by families of nearly 3,000 people killed in the attacks, and from insurers that covered losses suffered by building owners and businesses.

"The allegations in the complaint alone do not provide this court with a basis to assert jurisdiction over defendants," Judge Daniels wrote.

The victims had sought to supplement their case with new allegations to avoid that result, including based on testimony they secured from Zacarias Moussaoui, a former Al-Qaeda operative imprisoned for his role in the attacks.

Judge Daniels said even if he allowed the plaintiffs to assert those new claims, doing so would be "futile, however, because the additional allegations do not strip defendants of sovereign immunity".

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said they would appeal.

Mr Sean Carter, one the lawyers, said he believed the ruling was also the consequence of the US government's decision to keep classified evidence that could be favorable to their cause. "Obviously, we respectfully disagree with Judge Daniels'ruling," he said.

A lawyer for Saudi Arabia declined comment.

The ruling came just over 14 years after the Sept 11, 2001, attacks, in which airliners hijacked by Al-Qaeda militants brought death and destruction upon the United States.

Most of the 19 attackers were Saudi nationals who hijacked planes and flew them into the World Trade Centre in New York City, the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., and into a field in Pennsylvania after passengers revolted.

The case against Saudi Arabia has had a complicated history, with trial judges including Judge Daniels twice before ruling that Saudi Arabia was entitled to immunity under the federal Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

But in 2013, the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York revived the lawsuit, in light of a 2011 decision that allowed similar claims to proceed against Afghanistan.