The US Supreme Court refused to hear Sudan’s bid to avoid paying $3.8 billion in damages to family members of people killed or injured in al Qaeda’s 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania after a lower court found Sudan complicit.
The damages are a portion of $10.2 billion a federal judge awarded to hundreds of plaintiffs who brought lawsuits in the litigation that began in 2001. The justices declined to take up Sudan’s appeal of a federal appeals court ruling allowing damages claims by family members – all non-US citizens – who sought compensation for emotional distress.
The appeal is the latest move by Sudan, which in court papers called itself an impoverished nation riven by civil war, to reduce exposure in the litigation. The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in February over a separate bid by Sudan to avoid about $4.3 billion in punitive damages awarded to a broader set of plaintiffs.
“Sudan is in the midst of a historic transition to a civilian-led democracy and the vast increase in liability at issue here undermines Sudan’s desperately needed economic recovery,” attorneys for Sudan said in a court filing.
The damages were imposed by default against Sudan’s government because for most of the litigation it did not appear before a lower US court to defend itself against allegations it harboured and provided support to the Islamist militant group al Qaeda, which led to the embassy bombings.
The bombings in Kenya’s capital Nairobi as well as Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on August 7, 1998 killed 224 people and marked the first large-scale attack by al Qaeda. Twelve Americans were among the dead, with thousands wounded. Three years later, al Qaeda operatives carried out the September 11, 2001, attacks in the US, killing nearly 3,000 people.
The plaintiffs sued under the 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), which generally bars claims against foreign countries except those designated a state sponsor of terrorism, as Sudan has been since 1993.
They first sued in 2001 in federal court in Washington. Six other lawsuits followed involving more than 700 plaintiffs killed or injured in the attacks, or family members of victims.