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NYC Jury Finds Palestinian Authorities Liable For Terror Attacks

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- The Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority were the catalysts for a series of terrorist attacks in the early 2000s in Israel that killed or wounded several Americans, a New York jury found Monday at a high-stakes civil trial.

In finding the Palestinian authorities liable in the attacks, jurors awarded the victims $218.5 million in damages for the bloodshed. The U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act could allow for that to be tripled.

The case in Manhattan and another in Brooklyn have been viewed as the most notable attempts by American victims of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to use U.S. courts to seek damages that could reach into the billions of dollars.

NYC Jury Finds Palestinian Authorities Liable For Terror Attacks

The PLO and Palestinian Authority had no immediate comment. None of the victims were in the courtroom Monday for the verdict.

"We are truly grateful that an American court has heard the evidence against the Palestinian Authority and the PLO and determined that suicide terrorism was indeed their official policy during the Second Intifada," the plaintiffs' lawyers said in a statement. "This historic verdict against the defendants will not bring back these families' loved ones nor heal the physical and psychological wounds inflicted upon them but it truly is an important measure of justice and closure for them after their long years of  tragic suffering and pain."

"Now the PA, the Palestinian Authority, knows that there is a price for sending suicide bombers to our malls, to our cafes," added lawyer Nitsana Darshan-Leitner outside court.

Darshan-Leitner said they will go after assets in the United States and Israel.

"We make sure that the PA will pay every dollar of this judgment," she said.

In closing arguments, plaintiff attorney Kent Yalowitz had urged the Manhattan jury to order the PLO and Palestinian Authority to pay $350 million for providing material support to terrorists involved in six bombings and shootings from 2002 to 2004. Those attacks left 33 people dead and more than 450 injured.

Defense attorney Mark Rochon had argued there was no proof Palestinian authorities sanctioned the attacks as alleged in a 2004 lawsuit brought by 10 American families, even though members of their security forces were convicted in Israeli courts on charges they were involved.

"What they did, they did for their own reasons --- not the Palestinian Authority's," he said in federal court in Manhattan.

He left court without speaking to reporters.

The suit against the PLO and Palestinian Authority and the other against the Jordan-based Arab Bank had languished for years as the defendants challenged the American courts' jurisdiction. Recent rulings found that they should go forward under the Anti-Terrorism Act, a more than 2-decade-old law that allows victims of U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations to seek compensation for pain and suffering, loss of earnings and other hardship.

Jurors heard dramatic testimony from family members of people killed in the attacks and survivors who never fully recovered. One, Rena Sokolov, described how a family vacation to Israel in 2002 turned to tragedy with a bomb blast outside a Jerusalem shoe store.

The Long Island woman testified that she felt like she "was in a washing machine,'' and blood flowed so quickly from a broken leg she thought she would die.

"I looked to my right and saw a severed head of a woman about 3 feet from me,'' she said.

The plaintiffs also relied on internal records showing the Palestinian Authority continued to pay the salaries of employees who were put behind bars in terror cases and paid benefits to families of suicide bombers and gunmen who died committing the attacks.

"Where are the documents punishing employees for killing people?'' Yalowitz asked. ``We don't have anything like that in this case. ... They didn't roll that way.''

He also put up a photo of Yasser Arafat on a video screen, telling the jury that the Palestinian leader, who died in 2004, had approved martyrdom payments and incited the violence with anti-Israeli propaganda.

"The big dog was Yasser Arafat,'' he said. "Yasser Arafat was in charge.''

Rochon argued that it was illogical to conclude that payments made after the attacks motivated the attackers in the first place.

"You know a lot about prisoner payments and martyr payments,'' he said. "Do you have any evidence that they caused these attacks? No.''

Last year, a Brooklyn jury decided that Arab Bank should be held responsible for a wave of Hamas-orchestrated suicide bombings that left Americans dead or wounded based on claims the financial institution knowingly did business with the terror group.

A separate phase of the Brooklyn trial dealing with damages, set to begin in May, will feature testimony from victims.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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