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Jul 14, 2008 – A group of Americans, Canadians, and Israelis who claim Hezbollah rocket attacks injured them and killed relatives have accused two banks of helping finance the terrorist attacks and have sued them for $650 million.
The 85 plaintiffs say in court papers the American Express Bank Ltd. of New York and the Lebanese-Canadian Bank SAL of Beirut unlawfully transferred millions of dollars for Hezbollah between 2004 and 2006.
The papers, filed Friday at Manhattan's state Supreme Court, say Hezbollah used the money to finance the launch of thousands of rockets against several northern Israeli cities, including Haifa, from July 12 to Aug. 14, 2006.
The plaintiffs' lawyer, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, said the youngest of the victims is now 3 and the oldest is 88. She said that besides two who were killed, another was left paralyzed from the waist down for life and others also suffered serious injuries or severe emotional trauma.
The claims are based partly on New York state Banking Department findings last year that AMEX Bank failed to establish state and federally required safeguards to prevent money transfers to terrorists, Ms. Darshan-Leitner said.
The lawyer said Lebanese-Canadian Bank, which has a branch at Montreal, transferred the money in dollars to the Middle East to the accounts of Hezbollah front organizations.
Lebanese-Canadian Bank "negligently provided extensive banking services to Hizbollah (sic), which caused, enabled and facilitated the terrorist rocket attacks in which the plaintiffs and their decedents were harmed and killed," her court papers say.
To transfer the money in dollars, she said, Lebanese-Canadian must use an American bank, in this case AMEX in New York, as a correspondent institution.
"The idea of the lawsuit in part is to warn American correspondent banks that they will be held responsible for attacks by Hezbollah if they transfer money to them," Ms. Darshan-Leitner said. "We expect them to follow the law."
The lawyer said she believes the lawsuit is the first brought by terrorism victims against an American bank that serves as a correspondent for a Lebanese bank.
An AMEX Bank spokeswoman, Susan Atran, said company officials had not seen the lawsuit.
"We can say we are firmly committed to insuring that our bank's operations are not used for improper purposes," she said.
A telephone call to Lebanese-Canadian Bank for comment today was not immediately returned.