US court rules victims of USS Cole bombing can get $300m Sudan assets

New York appeal court ignores objections from US and Sudan and says money must be released to sailors and spouses.
The US navy destroyer, USS Cole  damaged on October 12.2000 by a suspected terrorist bomb while refueling in the port of Aden, Yemen. Photo: US Navy / AP
The US navy destroyer, USS Cole damaged on October 12.2000 by a suspected terrorist bomb while refueling in the port of Aden, Yemen. Photo: US Navy / AP

NEW YORK // Banks must turn over Sudanese funds to victims of Al Qaeda’s 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, a US appeal court ruled.

The court’s decision upholds an earlier ruling on September 23, 2015 which awarded US$314.7 million to 15 sailors and three spouses, and rejects the US government’s arguments that this could interfere with international treaties and dealings with foreign countries.

Sudan and the United States both asked the court to reconsider that earlier ruling but judges at the 2nd circuit court of appeals in New York turned them down by a vote of 3-0. The money must therefore be released.

Circuit judge Denny Chin expressed “some reluctance” to reject the US position, but said “the state department’s views are not conclusive”.

Christopher Curran, a lawyer representing Sudan, declined to comment, as did the US department of justice.

The attack on the destroyer USS Cole on October 12, 2000, came as the ship was refuelling in the Yemeni port of Aden. Seventeen 17 sailors were killed and 39 injured.

Fifteen injured sailors and three spouses sued Sudan, saying it had provided support to Al Qaeda for the bombing.

Court papers showed that after winning the initial case which awarded them $314.7m, the plaintiffs won court orders compelling BNP Paribas, Credit Agricole and Mashreqbank to hand over Sudanese assets to pay out the money.

Sudan then entered the case, saying the original lawsuit was not properly served on its foreign minister, and the orders to turn over the funds were improper.

The US government became involved last November, saying the September 23 ruling ran contrary to federal law and its treaty obligations, and left it vulnerable to being hauled improperly into foreign courts.

But Mr Chin said “the requirements of the statute were met” because the plaintiffs had sent the documents to the Sudanese minister of foreign affairs via the embassy, which acknowledged receiving them.

Andrew Hall, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said: “The decision will force Sudan to recognise its responsibilities to the victims of terrorism, including victims of the USS Cole bombing.”

though it favours a rehearing of the case, the US government said it “deeply sympathises with the extraordinary injuries to the US military personnel and their spouses who brought this suit, and condemns the terrorist acts that caused those injuries.”

On Tuesday, the state department said it welcomed Sudan’s “recent efforts to increase counterterrorism cooperation with the United States.” The US designated Sudan a state sponsor of terrorism in 1993.

* Reuters

Published: September 23, 2016 04:00 AM

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