The verdict in the politically sensitive trial in Manhattan federal court added a new dimension to the long-running Middle East conflict, as American victims of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict sought to use US courts to seek damages.
"Now the PLO and the PA know there is a price for supporting terrorism," said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, in an interview after the verdict.
Jurors found in favor of 10 American families suing over six attacks attributed to the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Hamas. The award could be tripled under the US Anti-Terrorism Act.
Victims and their families had requested more than $350 million, or over $1 billion after tripling, over shootings and bombings from 2002 to 2004 that killed 33 people and injured over 450.
In closing arguments, plaintiff attorney Kent Yalowitz had urged the Manhattan jury to order the PLO and Palestinian Authority to pay $350 million for providing material support to terrorists involved in six bombings and shootings from 2002 to 2004.
No amount could make up for the human toll, he said. "But if the only thing you can give them is money, then money has to stand in as compensation for the unspeakable loss," he added.
Defense attorney Mark Rochon had argued there was no proof Palestinian authorities sanctioned the attacks as alleged in a 2004 lawsuit brought by 10 American families, even though members of their security forces were convicted in Israeli courts on charges they were involved.
"What they did, they did for their own reasons ... not the Palestinian Authority's," he said in federal court in Manhattan.
None of the victims was in the courtroom Monday for the verdict, but their lawyers called it a victory in the fight against terrorism.
"It's about accountability. It's about justice," attorney Kent Yalowitz said. He and an attorney with the Israel Law Center, which helped with the case, vowed to collect the damages by pursuing Palestinian Authority and PLO bank accounts, securities accounts, real estate and other property that may be in the U.S., Israel and elsewhere.
"Now, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority know there is a price" for supporting terrorism, Israel Law Center attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner said.
Throughout the trial, US District Judge George Daniels in Manhattan largely denied bids by the Palestinian Authority and the PLO to dismiss the long-running lawsuit. At a court hearing in December, Daniels also reaffirmed his decision in 2008 finding that his court had jurisdiction over claims against the Palestinian Authority and PLO despite changes in law at the appellate level.
The Sokolow family, the lead plaintiff in the trial, testified three weeks ago; a January 2002 bombing injured Jamie Sokolow, her sister Lauren, her mother Rena and her father Mark, all of whom testified.
Top Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi took the witness stand two weeks ago.
Ashrawi, a member of the PLO's executive committee, said she and other leaders, including the late Yasser Arafat, worked with US and Israeli officials to combat terrorism during those years.
"It didn't serve the cause of the Palestinian Authority or the PLO, nor the cause of freedom," she said of the attacks. Her testimony, which lasted about two hours, followed that of Majid Faraj, the authority's head of intelligence.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs have accused the Palestinians of making payments to militants convicted of terrorism as a means of supporting their actions.
Faraj told the jurors the payments were intended to help the convicted men's families and remove economic reasons for them to engage in further attacks.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.