US judge remains doubtful over 9/11 claims against Saudi Arabia

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A judge who previously rejected arguments that Saudi Arabia was behind the Sept. 11 attacks expressed doubts again Thursday after claims were revived by congressional action.

US District Judge George B. Daniels in Manhattan questioned lawyers for families and survivors of the 2001 attacks as well as attorneys for Saudi Arabia during a daylong hearing. He did not immediately rule, and a written decision was likely weeks or months away.

The latest round of arguments arose after Congress passed the 2016 Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act over then-President Barack Obama's veto, allowing the claims to go forward against Saudi Arabia after they were rejected once in the courts.

Daniels challenged claims by an attorney arguing on behalf of plaintiffs in the 15-year-old litigation that Saudi Arabia could be held responsible in the terrorist attacks, even if it never agreed to support the terrorists and wasn't aware that money it gave to charities in the Middle East may have made it to Osama bin Laden's group.

"If I gave you $10 and you went and bought $5 of ice cream, why is it that I gave you $5 to buy ice cream?" he asked.

Later, Daniels asked: "So every terrorist act al-Qaeda commits Saudi Arabia is responsible for?"

The 9/11 Commission report found "no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded" the attacks al-Qaeda masterminded.

Attorney Michael Kellogg, arguing for Saudi Arabia, cited the report repeatedly, along with the findings of probes by the FBI and CIA.

"All rejected Saudi Arabia was responsible," he said.

In initially rejecting the case against Saudi Arabia in 2015, Daniels characterized new claims by the plaintiffs as "entirely conclusory" or "largely boilerplate."

He added: "I'm not quite sure what I'm supposed to do with the report's ultimate conclusion or the facts, whether they're sufficient for this court to independently reach those conclusions," he said.

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