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Saudi princes seek immunity against 9/11 lawsuits

Victims' families say they knew donations went to al Qaeda

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Acts of terror
September 11 attacks
Saudi Arabia

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Lawyers representing two Saudi princes argued Friday that their clients have immunity from lawsuits relating to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, because they are diplomatic officials.

Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz and Prince Turki al-Faisal, formerly head of Saudi Arabia's intelligence agency, have been sued by hundreds of relatives of the victims, who allege that they knowingly contributed money and support to al Qaeda through Islamic charitable organizations.

The $1 trillion lawsuit says members of the Saudi royal family paid protection money to Osama bin Laden's group to keep it from carrying out terror attacks in Saudi Arabia.

The lawsuit claims the money was paid soon after the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 U.S. airmen in 1996. The suit does not specify the amount of money involved in the payoff.

The 15-count suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by more than 900 family members, plus some firefighters and rescue workers.

Adel Al-Jubeir, foreign policy adviser to Saudi Arabia's crown prince, has denied claims that Saudi royals ever paid money to al Qaeda.

A federal judge is expected to rule soon, perhaps next week, on whether the men are immune from the civil suits.

At issue is whether U.S. courts have jurisdiction over the two princes in this case in light of the Foreign Service Immunity Act.

Bill Jeffriss, representing Prince Sultan, said that the contributions made to Islamic charities that may have funneled money to bin Laden amount to "an exercise by a foreign official of discretion to decide which international Islamic charity and what relief operations by Islamic organizations the country's going to support."

"It's a core government function and not something a public official can be hauled into court for," Jeffriss said.

Ron Motley, lead attorney in the case against the Saudis, said the Saudi government and the two princes were told at least three times by U.S. and French officials that their contributions were funding terrorism.

"They were told that the very charities they were giving millions of dollars to every year were converting that money to terrorist activities including al Qaeda," Motley said.

One of the lawyers who filed the suit is Allen Gerson, one of the attorneys who negotiated a $2.7 billion settlement between the Libyan government and families of 270 people killed when Pam Am Flight 103 was blown up over Scotland in 1988.

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