Nadia Murad's Lafarge lawsuit a 'game changer' for victims of terrorism

Experts tell The National the case opens the floodgates for thousands and any companies backing Hamas will be watching closely

Nobel prize winner Nadia Murad is among hundreds of people taking civil action against cement company Lafarge, which helped to fund ISIS. Reuters
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A court case being brought in the US by Nobel prize winner Nadia Murad against a French company, Lafarge, which gave millions to ISIS is being labelled a game changer.

Experts have told The National the litigation could open the floodgates for any person affected by ISIS to bring a case against the company and that any companies who have funded Hamas will be watching the case closely.

Ms Murad is one of more than 400 Yazidis who have filed a court case against Lafarge for conspiring to provide material support to a campaign of terrorism conducted by ISIS against the Yazidi population.

The case comes after the cement producer became the first company in American history to be convicted of bribing a foreign terrorist organisation after it admitted paying ISIS and Al Nusrah more than $6 million to allow it to keep operating in Syria.

Lafarge, which was taken over by Swiss-listed Holcim in 2015, agreed to pay $778 million in forfeitures and fines as part of a plea agreement last October.

Hans Jacob-Schindler, director of the Counter Extremism Project, told The National the landmark case will send out a strong message to companies who support terrorist groups.

"The Lafarge case could be a real game changer. The firm pleaded guilty to criminal charges in 2022 and it is established they paid over $6 million to ISIS and Al Nusrah," he said.

"In counter-terrorism financing it does not matter for what purpose ISIS used the money, it is arguably start-up capital which enabled ISIS and its genocidal ideology to rise and it should pay compensation.

"I would think the legal action has quite a good chance as the firm has already pleaded guilty. At the time it gave ISIS the money it enabled its growth. Even more importantly they gave the money that enabled them to carry out genocide in the future.

"The good news is this goes beyond Lafarge, it has established that it no longer matters who in an organisation paid a terror group, now the organisation is being held to account and is responsible for financing terrorism.

"Other corporations will be watching this carefully and making more of an effort to ensure this doesn't happen within their organisation. It is super important. Any firms backing Hamas presently could face the same action in the future now it is proscribed in the UK and US."

ISIS began its campaign of genocide against the Yazidi population in Sinjar, Iraq, in 2014.

Approximately 400,000 Yazidis fled, more than 6,400 were enslaved and an estimated 5,000 were killed.

Many of the thousands of Yazidi women and girls captured and sold as sex slaves to ISIS fighters are still missing.

The group of 427 plaintiffs includes Yazidis who were injured by ISIS, owned land and homes that were destroyed, or had family members who were displaced, injured, kidnapped, or killed by the terrorist group.

Lafarge has admitted that it gave millions of dollars in cash to ISIS and is alleged to have provided the group with cement to build underground tunnels and bunkers used to shelter ISIS members and hold hostages, including captured Yazidis.

“When ISIS attacked Sinjar, my family was killed, and I was taken captive as a slave. I was exploited and assaulted every single day until my escape,” Ms Murad said.

“Unfortunately, my story is not unique among Yazidis. It is the reality of thousands of Yazidi women. Even more tragic is that our horror took place under the awareness of and thanks to the support of powerful corporations like Lafarge.

"Still, the responsible parties have not been held accountable. In filing this lawsuit, I stand alongside my fellow Yazidi-Americans seeking justice and accountability from those whose actions enabled our nightmare.”

Barrister Paul Genney said the case will open the floodgate for thousands of others and said the company faces paying out millions in compensation.

"The victims of ISIS are infinite, so potentially the number of claimants is colossal," he told The National.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg. This is an international organisation and it could be sued in any jurisdiction it is based so there are potentially thousands of victims. I hope the company has deep pockets. I could imagine British claimants bringing a class action against them."

In July, the families of US journalists and military personnel killed or injured by Al Nusrah and ISIS attacks in Syria, Iraq, and farther afield, also launched litigation against Lafarge.

They include the family of Kayla Mueller, an American aid worker who was raped and murdered, as well as the families of journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley, both of whom were beheaded by ISIS in 2014.

Their complaint includes the families of 10 US military personnel killed or injured by ISIS attacks in Syria and Iraq and Niger, and one American injured during an attack in Turkey.

“Lafarge paid millions to ISIS, which committed genocidal atrocities on innocent civilians. While last year’s guilty plea was unprecedented, it is not enough. Lafarge needs to be held to account by those harmed by its unlawful conduct,” said Jenner & Block lawyer Lee Wolosky.

Updated: December 19, 2023, 4:33 PM