NEW YORK — Saudi Arabia had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 attacks and should be dismissed as a defendant in lawsuits brought by victims' families, a lawyer for the kingdom told a judge Thursday.
Attorney Michael Kellogg made the argument before a Manhattan federal judge, who did not immediately rule.
Saudi Arabia was dropped as a defendant nine years ago by a judge who said it was protected by sovereign immunity, but a federal appeals court in December 2013 reinstated it, saying a legal exception existed and the circumstances were extraordinary.
Kellogg said there were no facts showing Saudi Arabia knew of the attacks in advance or knowingly aided terrorists.
He said the plaintiffs had failed to allege "admissible, concrete, competent evidence" that Saudi Arabia was involved, but they instead relied on innuendo and rumors to support their claims.
He argued that foreign nations are immune from such lawsuits and the plaintiffs had not shown any evidence that could overcome that burden.
Speaking for the Sept. 11 families, attorney Sean Carter said the judge must decide whether there is sufficient evidence to find that Saudi Arabia's agents provided terrorists with "operational assistance."
He said two Saudi government employees helped two Sept. 11 hijackers who could not speak English find an apartment and get acclimated with the country when they first arrived in San Diego. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were citizens of Saudi Arabia.
One of the Saudi employees, according to court papers, housed them for a time at his apartment, co-signed and guaranteed their lease and helped them open a bank account with $9,000 of his own money.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs say they have developed substantial new evidence against Saudi Arabia since the Sept. 11 Commission said in a report a decade ago that it found no evidence that the Saudi government or senior Saudi officials individually funded al-Qaida.
Carter said some of the commission staff responsible for the Saudi part of the investigation had believed there was a Saudi connection, but other more senior officials made a "political decision" that there should be no allegations against a foreign entity that could not be proved 100 percent.
The lawsuits were brought in 2002 and afterward against countries, companies and organizations accused of aiding al-Qaida and other terrorist groups. They sought billions of dollars in damages.