A federal judge has ruled that the Bank of China may be held financially responsible for the death of a U.S. citizen killed in a 2006 suicide bombing undertaken by Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).
The case, Wultz v. Islamic Republic of Iran, was brought in Washington, DC by the parents of Daniel Wultz, a 16-year-old from South Florida who was visiting Israel four years ago when he was killed in a PIJ attack. According to the complaint, officials from the Bank of China ignored warnings by senior Israeli officials that a senior officer of the PIJ, Said al-Shurafa, maintained accounts at the institution.
Between 2003 and the April 17, 2006 attack, the Bank of China reportedly "executed dozens of dollar wire transfers for the PIJ, totaling several million dollars." The transfers, which were allegedly initiated by PIJ leadership in Iran and Syria, were executed by and through BOC's branches in the United States, and were used "for the purpose of planning, preparing for, and executing terrorist attacks."
The bank had asked that the case be dismissed, arguing, among other things, that al-Shurafa was not designated as a member of a terrorist organization, and that the bank did not knowingly provide financial support to a terrorist organization. As with other similarly situated banks, BOC protested that it merely engaged in "the routine provision of banking facilities."
In rejecting these claims and allowing the suit to move forward, Judge Royce Lamberth emphasized that a financial institution could be held liable merely for receiving and transmitting the funds of a Foreign Terrorist Organization. "Even the provision of basic banking services," can qualify as material support to a terrorist group.
Applying this rule, the court explained that the Bank of China knew that PIJ was a terrorist organization, the institution allowed the members of the terrorist group to maintain accounts, and the money in those accounts facilitated acts of terrorism, including the Tel Aviv bombing which killed Wultz. Had the bank followed the law and denied PIJ militants access to its institution, "the ability of PIJ to conduct banking activities would be severely restricted, and PIJ's ability to plan, to prepare, and to carry out terrorist attacks would be significantly reduced."
This ruling is the most recent in a line of cases seeking to cut off funding to terrorism by going after the financial institutions that serve as intermediaries and knowing participants in terrorist financing. Commenting on the ruling, Robert Tolchin, the attorney for the plaintiffs, explained "the lifeblood of terrorism is money. You can't shoot missiles if you can't get money to buy them…Judge Lamberth has taken a significant bite out of that process by allowing this case to proceed."