Three families of American victims of Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel sued the governments of Iran and Syria and the Binance crypto exchange and its former CEO, accusing them of providing financing and other material support to the militant Palestinian group’s terrorist activities.
The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday afternoon in the Southern District of New York, is the first of what U.S. lawyers told Semafor will likely be a flood of cases tied to the Hamas assault, which killed around 1,200 people and led to the kidnapping of 240 Israeli and foreign nationals. At least 30 of the dead were U.S. citizens.
The New York suit was filed, in part, on behalf of members of the Raanan family. Judith Raanan and her daughter, Natalie, were both kidnapped by Hamas on October 7 and held in the Gaza Strip before eventually being released in a prisoner exchange two weeks later. The family and estate of Itay Glisko are also claimants; the 20-year-old New Jersey native was a sergeant in the Israel Defense Forces and died in fighting with Hamas on October 8.
A third claimant, Jeffrey Ludmir, is the uncle of Daniel Levi Ludmir, a 34-year-old physician and father of two, whom Hamas militants murdered while he was treating wounded at Kibbutz Be’eri in southern Israel. Lawyers involved in the court filing said more claimants and defendants are likely to be added to the case as additional information concerning the October 7 attack is compiled. The families are represented by Seiden Law LLP.
Iran and Syria are both designated by the U.S. as state sponsors of terrorism and have been successfully sued in U.S. courts for their involvement in previous terrorist attacks. The court filing accuses Tehran and Damascus of arming and financing Hamas, and helping to orchestrate the October 7 attack.
The filing also accuses Binance and its co-founder, Changpeng Zhao, of allowing Hamas to use the cryptocurrency platform to conduct financial transactions and make payments. Binance reached a $4.3 billion settlement with the U.S. Treasury Department in November and acknowledged that Hamas and other extremist groups illegally used the exchange. (Zhao stepped down as Binance’s chief executive as part of the agreement.)
“Incredibly, Binance went out of its way to protect users associated with Hamas and other terrorist groups from regulatory scrutiny, especially if they were “VIP” users who generated huge profits for Binance,” the filing reads.
Iran and Syria’s missions to the United Nations didn’t respond to requests for comment from Semafor. Binance’s press office also didn’t respond.
Negotiations led by Qatar to gain the release of the roughly 130 hostages still being held by Hamas in Gaza are the main focus of the U.S. and Israeli governments today. But Wednesday’s lawsuit in New York offers a snapshot into what’s likely going to be an ugly — and protracted — period of legal recriminations over the October 7 attacks, not dissimilar to what happened after September 11, 2001.
U.S. citizens have repeatedly sued Iran and Syria in recent decades for their alleged roles in international terrorism and support for groups like Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia. Americans held hostage in Tehran have successfully sued Iran in U.S. courts following their release, as have the families of American military personnel killed by Iranian proxies in Iraq and Lebanon. The U.S. government has set up a special fund to cover some of the judgment wins by American citizens as Tehran has refused to comply with U.S. court rulings.
The September 11 attacks on the U.S. fueled a torrent of lawsuits against global banks and other financial institutions for allegedly being complicit in the financing of al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. And Hamas’ October attack is likely to drive a similar frenzy of litigation that could also target governments, religious foundations and charities.
Lawyers representing the families drew on Binance’s settlement agreement with the Treasury and other U.S. regulators as evidence of the crypto exchange allowing Hamas to use its platform. Treasury alleged that Binance failed to report over 100,000 suspicious transactions. And the company’s former compliance officer admitted back in 2019 that Hamas was using Binance to send “small sums” because “large sums constitute money laundering,” according to a lawsuit filed last March against Binance by the Commodities Futures Trading Commision, which regulates crypto exchanges.
Families of victims of Hamas attacks have attempted in recent years to sue interests from Qatar, including the Qatar Charity and Masraf Al Rayan bank, for allegedly financing terrorism, with uncertain results. The government of Qatar, a close U.S. ally, is granted diplomatic immunity in the U.S. against most types of litigation. A judge in the Eastern District of New York threw out a suit last year against Qatari interests on procedural grounds while a second case in the same court is going through jurisdictional discovery.
The View From Iran and Syria
The Iranian government has praised Hamas’ October attack and acknowledged Tehran’s role in funding and arming the Palestinian organization. Iran has also rallied its regional allies, including the Houthi militia, to support Hamas in its war against Israel. But Tehran has also denied foreknowledge of the October attack.
“We emphatically stand in unflinching support of Palestine; however, we are not involved in Palestine’s response, as it is taken solely by Palestine itself,” Iran’s UN mission said in a statement after the attack.
The Syrian regime of President Bashar Al Assad has been a bit more cautious in support of Hamas since the October attack. The Palestinian organization’s political leadership previously was headquartered in Damascus before moving to Qatar after civil war engulfed Syria in 2012, and Assad force’s launched wide scale attacks on Sunni organizations aligned with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, a pan-Islamic body founded in Egypt.
Assad and Hamas, though, have mended their ties and the Syrian regime praised the October 7 attack, though it denied participating in it. “This honorable achievement proves that the only way to achieve the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people is resistance in all its forms,” Syria’s Foreign Ministry said.
- The U.S. Treasury Department announced in November its $4.3 billion settlement with Binance that includes the company’s admission that it failed to report suspicious payments by U.S.-designated terrorist organizations Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, al Qaeda and the Islamic State.