The Philadelphia law firm Cozen O'Connor sued Saudi Arabia and several Islamist charities in 2003, seeking to hold them financially liable for the 9/11 terror attacks.
Although the Saudis' lawyers won earlier rounds when a judge removed the kingdom and Saudi royals as defendants, the case has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Moreover, a number of the Saudi charities remain as defendants.
Whichever way the court rules, the story behind the suit is a case study in tort law with foreign-policy implications - and billions of dollars at stake.
A two-part Inquirer series – and follow-up articles - trace events that preceded the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and leads to a federal courtroom.
May 31: Less than a mile from the mournful place in Lower Manhattan where the World Trade Center came crashing to the ground, in a hushed federal courthouse, a band of Philadelphia lawyers is prying loose secrets of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
It is here that the Cozen O'Connor law firm has filed an 812-page lawsuit on behalf of U.S. and global insurance companies alleging that Saudi Arabia and Saudi-backed Islamist charities nurtured and financed al-Qaeda, the author of those deadly attacks. Read the article
June 1: Although the question of who financed the movement that carried out the 9/11 attacks involved complex facts and difficult investigative hurdles, the legal theory behind the case wasn't terribly different from the work that Cozen O'Connor had made a specialty: Look for people or businesses responsible for a loss and make them pay.
That is what led Stephen Cozen's firm to file an 812-page complaint that would seek to hold America's closest ally in the Arab world financially liable. Read the article
For years, Saudi Arabia flatly denied it had provided money and logistical support for Islamist militant groups that attacked Western targets.
But that assertion is disputed by a former al-Qaeda commander who testified in a United Nations war-crimes trial that his unit was funded by the Saudi High Commission for Relief of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was founded by the Saudi government. Read the article
While the 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act broadly protects foreign governments against lawsuits filed by U.S. citizens, the act provides exemptions, and federal judges have allowed suits to proceed in two notorious cases involving state-sanctioned assassinations. Read the article
Following the case since then
Aug. 15, 2008: An ambitious lawsuit by the Philadelphia firm of Cozen O'Connor blaming the government of Saudi Arabia for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks was dealt a sharp setback yesterday when a federal appeals court ruled that the desert kingdom could not be sued for acts of terrorism. Read the article and read the ruling
Aug. 20, 2008: Only days after suffering a significant setback in their lawsuit against Saudi Arabia, lawyers at Cozen O'Connor and other plaintiffs' lawyers have opened a new front in their battle to hold terrorism financiers accountable for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Read the article
Nov. 14, 2008: Thousands of victims of the 9/11 attacks appealed to the Supreme Court yesterday, asking it to overturn a lower court decision barring lawsuits against Saudi Arabia for supporting acts of terrorism. Read the article
Jan. 6, 2009: In papers filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, lawyers for the kingdom and several high-ranking Saudi royals say that U.S. law provides blanket immunity to Saudi Arabia from lawsuits over the 9/11 attacks. Read the article
Feb. 24, 2009: The request from the U.S. Supreme Court may indicate a close hearing. Read the article
May 29, 2009: In a setback for insurers and individual victims of the 9/11 attacks, U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan urged the Supreme Court yesterday to reject allegations that Saudi Arabia was responsible because it indirectly financed al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Read the article
June 9, 2009: The case is likely to reach a critical juncture this month when the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide whether to hear arguments on Saudi Arabia's legal exposure. Read the Law Review column
June 11, 2009: In a stinging rebuke to the Obama administration, lawyers representing victims of the 9/11 attacks accuse the government of trying to "appease" Saudi Arabia by urging the Supreme Court not to hear arguments that the kingdom could be sued for its alleged role in funding the attackers. Read the article
June 26, 2009: A Defense Department intelligence document on weapons trafficking in Somalia suggests a prominent Saudi government charity supplied arms and other aid to a Mogadishu warlord whose forces killed 18 U.S. soldiers in the notorious Black Hawk Down battle in 1993. Read the article
May 20, 2011: Lawyers for seven family members of Philadelphia-area victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks filed new documents Thursday in long-running litigation that they say provide clear evidence the government of Iran aided the hijackers. Read the article
Nearly 10 years to the day after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a London-based insurance syndicate Thursday filed a new lawsuit against the government of Saudi Arabia in U.S. District Court in Johnstown, Pa., alleging that the Saudis helped finance and provided logistical support to Islamist terror groups. Read the article
The liability case Cozen O’Connor has brought against the Saudi government and other defendants on behalf of U.S. and global insurance companies is the biggest and most complex the firm has ever filed.
This time line draws on events that arise from the 9/11 attacks. View the timeline (.pdf)
An epic lawsuit filed by Philadelphia firm Cozen O'Connor looks to place direct blame for the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and a host of individuals, banks and groups so that it can recover billions of dollars in damages.
The following public portions of the lawsuit are in the form of .pdfs, and vary in length from 12 to 61 pages. There is some overlap, in instances where a section ended in the middle of the page; the excerpt that follows picks up on that same page.
1. The list of plaintiffs and defendants. Read the document
2. Background on the actions leading to the lawsuit, and beginning of the allegations against each defendant. Read the document
3. More background on the actions leading to the lawsuit. This section presents allegations against the defendant banks and other financial institutions. Read the document
4. More background. This section sets out allegations against parties accused of having business ties to al-Qaeda. Read the document
5. Sets out the injuries to the plaintiffs - the insurance companies - in the form of payments made for property, business and workers' compensation claims. Read the document
6. Sets out the counts of the illegalities alleged in the lawsuit: trespass, wrongful death, survival action, assault and battery, infliction of emotional distress, torture, conspiracy, racketeering, aiding and abetting, international terrorism and negligence, and calls for punitive damages. Read the document
7. In this section, additional plaintiffs - insurance companies - are added to the suit. Read the document
8. This begins a long passage in which the plaintiffs set out accusations under RICO - the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which was enacted in 1970 to combat organized crime. Read the document
9. This passage continues the assertions of violations under the RICO act. Read the document
10. This passage continues the assertions of violations under the RICO act. Read the document
11. This section contains allegations that a number of Islamist groups had ties to al-Qaeda, and also describes what it calls al-Qaeda's objectives and tactics. It also asserts that several of these groups have Saudi ties. Further, it quotes a passage from what it says is a guide to Islamic youth camps, containing a suggestion that youths attending the camps be led in this refrain:
"Hail! Hail! O Sacrificing Soldiers! To Us! To Us!
So we may defend the flag on this Day of Jihad, are you miserly
with your blood?!
And has life become dearer to you? And staying behind sweeter?
Is staying in this world of torment more pleasing to us?
Read the document
12. This passage continues asserting ties between various Islamist groups and al-Qaeda, including allegations that money was funneled into Bosnia, and draws ties between a Saudi-funded group and the 1998 United States Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Read the document
13. This continues setting out accusations linking al-Qaeda and Islamic groups and individuals, including assertions that a poultry processor in Georgia donated $1.1 million, or 99 percent of its 1998 profits, to a group that was funding al-Qaeda. Read the document
14. This segment asserts RICO violations against various banks and other financial institutions that the plaintiffs say had ties to al-Qaeda, through such actions as providing accounts and money-laundering. Read the document
15. This portion continues the plaintiffs' descriptions of ties that they assert exist between various banks and other financial institutions helping al-Qaeda. Read the document
16. This portion includes a reference to a "Golden Chain" document listing wealthy backers of al-Qaeda. The document was found on a computer hard drive seized during a raid, by the FBI and Bosnian police, of Bosnian offices of a group linked to a U.S. nonprofit. Read the document
17. This portion directly accuses the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and/or its various charities, of supporting terrorism that led to the 9/11 attack The accusations spelled out include conspiracy to commit murder, mail and wire fraud, filing false tax returns, and unlawful reproduction and procurement of naturalization or citizenship papers. Also in this portion, five Saudi princes are accused of participating in illegalities by supporting groups linked to terrorism. Read the document
18. This portion includes a letter from the U.S. Treasury Department that makes reference to a "complex land transaction" in Illinois used to launder money that made its way, in part, to the head of Hamas' military wing. Read the document
19. This final passage includes a description of the International Islamic Relief Organization, which was founded by Saudi royal decree, and details a web of activities including the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, a plot to
destroy the Lincoln Tunnel and Brooklyn Bridge, a plot to assassinate former President Bill Clinton and then-Pope John Paul II, and a plot to blow up 12 American commercial airplanes simultaneously. Read the document
Additional documents associated with the lawsuit
A 2007 filing in a U.S. appellate court outlines the case brought on behalf of insurance companies against Saudi Arabia and its leaders, alleging that they supported the terrorists who staged the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Read the brief filed with the appeals court (.pdf)
The appeals brief for Saudi Arabia, in which the kingdom denies allegations that it was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Read the brief
An appellate brief for the Saudi High Commission for Bosnia and Herzegovina, a Saudi government charity set up to aid Muslim refugees during the Balkans War. In the brief, the commission says it was falsely accused of funding al-Qaeda. Read the appellate brief
Prince Turki, a Saudi royal, was accused of assisting al-Qaeda in his role as head of Saudi intelligence. In this appellate brief, he denies that he had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks and argues that Saudi Arabia itself has been the victim of terrorism. Read the appellate brief
Appeals brief of Saudi Crown Prince Sultan, Prince Naif and Prince Salman, presenting their argument for why they should not be defendants in the lawsuit. This is their denial of allegations that they were at least partly to blame for the 9/11 attacks. Read the appellate brief