All kinds of signs the Saudi royals are panicking these days. They fired long-time independent-minded London Ambassador al-Gasaibi, and put in his place the former intelligence chief. They have a pr blitz going on in the US costing multi-millions. They have made noises in each direction about the US using Saudi military bases openly to invade Iraq. Of late they have been suggesting a Saudi-Pakistani alliance, though not with much credibility. And their blue-jeaned Ambassador Bandar went down to the Texas Ranch White House to get photographed sitting on a desk elevated over the President...how unusual indeed.
U.S. May Ask Court to Dismiss a $1 Trillion Suit Linking Saudis to Al Qaeda and 9/11
By PHILIP SHENON
NYTimes, 25 Oct: WASHINGTON, Oct. 24 — The Bush administration is closely monitoring a private lawsuit accusing members of the Saudi royal family of ties to Al Qaeda, and may move in a federal court here to dismiss or delay the suit, which was brought by relatives of Sept. 11 victims, according to administration officials.
Government laywers, the officials said, are trying to determine whether the case threatens to damage Saudi-American relations, which would give them reason to block the suit. The suit seeks $1 trillion in damages and is being pursued here by nearly 3,000 of the relatives.
A State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he knew of no plans by the United States to take action in court, but he said the issue of the lawsuit had been raised in recent meetings of top American and Saudi officials.
"The Saudis have made their concerns known at a senior level," he said.
The legal team representing the families is led by one of the nation's leading plaintiff's lawyers, Ron Motley, of Charleston, S.C., who is best known for obtaining a landmark $350 billion settlement from the tobacco industry in the late 1990's.
"This has become a true mission for me," said Mr. Motley, whose folksy, country-lawyer style masks what adversaries have described as his ferociousness in pretrial maneuvering. "The individuals that we've sued faciliated the events of Sept. 11."
Bush administration officials say senior Saudi officials have complained to their American counterparts that the suit could damage the already strained relationship between the two countries.
The Saudis have been especially alarmed, the Americans say, because the list of defendants includes two of the most prominent members of the Saudi royal family: Prince Sultan bin Abdelaziz al-Saud, the defense minister, and Prince Turki bin Faisal, the former spy chief and the new Saudi ambassador to Britain.
The Saudi Embassy in Washington said it had no comment on the lawsuit, and did not respond to requests for comment from Prince Sultan or Prince Turki.
But Americans close to the royal family say the suit has so alarmed Prince Turki's lawyers that he has been advised to avoid all travel to the United States, and that other wealthy Saudis defendants are threatening to move billions of dollars out of the United States for fear that their assets here could be seized.
Mr. Motley's legal team includes many of the other lawyers involved in the huge tobacco settlement, as well as Allan Gerson, a Washington lawyer who brought suit against Libya on behalf of families of victims of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.
Mr. Gerson, an international law specialist, said he was not surprised that the government would consider intervening to derail the lawsuit.
"There will probably be an effort by the government to seek dismissal or deferral of the case on the grounds that at this particularly sensitive juncture in U.S.-Saudi relations, a suit like this would put the interests of private claimaints ahead of the interests of state," he said.
He is optimistic that the courts would reject such a move.
The lawsuit repeats accusations that have been widely circulated since Sept. 11 about Saudi financial support for Al Qaeda, mostly through Islamic charity groups and Saudi banks.
Liz Alderman, of Armonk, N.Y., whose son Peter died in the World Trade Center, said she had joined in the suit becuase "there is no other way for the truth to come out."
"I've learned and I believe that an awful lot of the funding that enabled the terrorists to attack America was provided by Saudi Arabia," she said.
American officials insist they know of no evidence to support the suit's principle accusations, including its charge that Prince Sultan "publicly supported and funded several Islamic charities that were sponsoring Osama bin Laden."
Nor, the Americans say, do they know of any support for the suit's charge that Prince Turki negotiated a deal with Al Qaeda in 1998 in which the terror network agreed to end its efforts to subvert the Saudi monarchy in exchange for a Saudi promise not to demand the extradition of Qaeda leaders.
Wyche Fowler, American ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 1996 until last year, said that in his years in the embassy, he had never seen any evidence to suggest that members of the royal family had given money to Islamic charities with the intent of aiding Al Qaeda.
"Saudis are not in the business of funding terrorists against their friend, the United States," he said, adding that he had been impressed by the Saudi government's recent commitment to tighten scrutiny on charities.
Mr. Motley has vowed to pursue members of the Saudi royal family and other prominent Saudis even more aggressively than he pursued tobacco executives a decade ago. He said he is eager to seize Saudi assets in the United States if the defendants refuse to submit to court orders for depositions and the presentation of written evidence.
"The tobacco people were bad guys in that they had knowledge about the dangers of cigarettes," Mr. Motley said. "But they never intentionally launched an attack against the United States."