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9/11 victims' families sue Saudis
( 2002-08-16 09:12 ) (7 )

Some 600 family members of Sept. 11 victims filed a trillion-dollar lawsuit Thursday against the Sudanese government and Saudi officials, banks and charities, charging they financed Osama bin Laden's network and the attacks on America.

The 15-count federal lawsuit, modeled after action filed against Libya in the Pan Am Flight 103 disaster, seeks to cripple banks, charities and some members of the Saudi royal family as a deterrent to terrorist financing schemes.

But the suit also is therapeutic for relatives of the victims, who acknowledge they face long odds of collecting anything.

"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."

"This is the right thing to do," said Matt Sellito, father of Matthew Carmen Sellito, 23, who also died in the World Trade Center. "If the odds are stacked against us, we will beat them."

The 258-page complaint, filed electronically Thursday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, seeks more than $1 trillion and charges the defendants with racketeering, wrongful death, negligence and conspiracy.

Lead attorney Ron Motley said the money would likely come largely from assets held by the defendants in the United States. He said the plaintiffs were after more institutions than those whose assets already have been frozen by the U.S. and other governments.

The complaint also ignores the Bush administration's delicate diplomatic balancing act with Saudi Arabia by bluntly blaming the kingdom's officials and institutions for the attacks.

"That kingdom sponsors terrorism," Motley told reporters at a news conference. "This is an insidious group of people."

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

Those listed include Princes Mohammed al-Faisal and former intelligence chief Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Defense Minister Sultan bin Abdul Aziz al Saud, Khalid bin Salim bin Mahfouz of the National Commercial Bank, and the Faisal Islamic Bank.

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 build a coalition for its war against terrorism.

Prince Saud said last week that the 70-year-old U.S.-Saudi alliance was as solid now as before the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

He said bin Laden, who was stripped of Saudi citizenship and is accused of directing the al-Qaida attacks, had intended to drive a wedge between the two countries when he chose 15 Saudi citizens to be among the 19 hijackers.

Several plaintiffs, fighting tears, said they would dedicate the rest of their lives to punishing those who financed the attacks.

"We will succeed because we have the facts and the law on our side," said Thomas E. Burnett Sr., whose son, Thomas E. Burnett Jr., led a passenger revolt against the hijackers of United Airlines Flight 93 and died when it plummeted to the ground.

"We have justice and morality on our side," he added.

In May, lawyers announced that a group of Libyans had negotiated a deal that would give $10 million each to the families of those killed when Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. But Libya insisted the group did not have authorization from the government to negotiate.



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