Michael Elsner

Michael Elsner

Provided/Motley Rice

A counter-terrorism lawsuit filed by a Mount Pleasant firm is heading to the highest court in the land

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday that it will decide whether Jordan-based Arab Bank can be liable for claims it helped finance terror attacks in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

The justices agreed to hear an appeal from victims and their families seeking damages for attacks that took place between 1995 and 2005. The lead attorney for the plaintiffs is Michael Elsner of Mount Pleasant-based Motley Rice LLC. 

The victims and their relatives argue that the bank is liable for providing material support to terrorist groups.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled Arab Bank was immune from such complaints. But that ruling split from other courts, which are divided over whether corporations can be sued for damages under the Alien Tort Statute. That 1789 U.S. law that allows federal courts to hear “any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.”

Elsner said providing immunity to corporations that "finance terrorists from liability for violations of customary international law is wrong and inconsistent with the language and purpose" of the federal statute.

"This decision has important implications for the fight against global terrorism," he said in a written statement Monday. "Disarming clients from their right to bring civil lawsuits is a victory for terrorist financiers."

Victims in the case allege that the bank, through the involvement of its New York branch, knowingly distributed millions of dollars to finance suicide bombings and make so-called "martyrdom" payments. They said the lender “served as the ‘paymaster’ for Hamas and other terrorist organizations, helping them identify and pay the families of suicide bombers and other terrorists.” 

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The bank has denied the allegations and argues that allowing the victims' claims to go forward would interfere with U.S. foreign policy and lead to diplomatic friction.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear the case, Jesner v. Arab Bank, 16-499, when its new term begins in the fall.

The bank also said that it had helped the United States in “the fight against terrorism financing and money laundering” and was not accused by the plaintiffs of being “involved in the planning, financing or commission of the attacks that caused their injuries.”

The Associated Press, The New York Times and The Post and Courier contributed to this report.