By NICHOLAS IOVINO
SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A California nonprofit wants two Middle Eastern banks and a Kuwaiti sheikh to pay damages for claims they funded the Islamic State’s systematic murder and displacement of Christians in Iraq and Syria.
St. Francis of Assisi, an Alameda-based nonprofit that assists refugees, sued the Kuwait Finance House, Kuveyt-Turk Participation Bank and Hajjaj al-Ajmi in Federal Court on Monday.
“My clients have lost everything,” St. Francis attorney Mogeeb Weiss told Courthouse News. “They’ve lost their property, livelihoods, members of families that have been murdered systematically. It’s very important, for no other reason than it is so unprovoked, other than religious beliefs.”
In February, the European Parliament issued a resolution condemning the genocide of Christians and other religious minority groups in Iraq and Syria. On Feb. 29, White House Press Secretary John Earnest acknowledged ISIS was targeting religious minorities but refused to use the word “genocide.”
The number of Christians in Iraq dropped from 1.4 million to 300,000 from 2003 to 2015. Less than 500,000 Christians remain in Syria today, compared to 1.25 million in 2011, according to 2015 estimates from the Catholic global charity Aid to the Church in Need.
“To successfully plan, fund, and carry out the killings of members of [St. Francis of Assis], ISIS relies upon an open, notorious, well known, and formalized system of terrorist financing which incentivizes and incites the killings and displacement of the Assyrian Christians,” the 19-page complaint states.
The lawsuit says al-Ajmi, a Kuwaiti-born, Sunni cleric, organized Twitter campaigns to solicit donations that were funneled through the defendant Kuwait Finance and Turkey-based banks into the hands of terrorists, who target Assyrian Christians with murderous intent, forcing them into refugee camps.
Al-Ajmi was briefly detained by Kuwaiti authorities after the United Nations and U.S. government listed him as a fundraiser for al-Qaida’s Syrian wing, Al Nusra Front, in August 2014.
The June 13 complaint accuses al-Ajmi and the banks of violating the U.S. Antiterrorism Act, aiding and abetting genocide, assisting in the intentional injury of others, reckless disregard and funding terrorism in violation of international law.
The lawsuit is not the first to seek damages from a foreign entity accused of funding terrorism under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1992, which was amended by Congress in 2001.
Last year, one of the largest financial institutions in the Middle East, Aman-Jordan based Arab Bank, settled a lawsuit brought by 300 families who accused the bank of funding Hamas-sponsored suicide attacks in Israel from 2001 to 2004.
That settlement was reached after a federal jury in 2014 found the bank liable for funding the attacks, but before a new jury was chosen to decide how much the bank owed the families.
Another lawsuit now making its way through Federal Court claims Chevron’s purchase of 78 million barrels of Iraqi oil from 2000 to 2002 funded crimes against humanity and acts of terrorism during Saddam Hussein’s regime.
In 2014, the Second Circuit upheld two rulings that found Iraq and torture survivors could not blame Chevron for turning a blind eye to Hussein’s atrocities.
The Kuwait Finance House and Kuveyt-Turk Participation Bank did not respond to emails seeking comment on Tuesday.
Weiss is based in Alameda, Calif.