The victims of the 1998 bomb attacks on US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania were on Monday awarded $4.3 billion (Ksh430 billion) in punitive damages.
The US Supreme Court ordered Sudan to pay the victims on grounds that the country provided crucial assistance to Al Qaeda, the group that was behind the attack.
The justices voted 8-0 to reverse a lower court decision that had concluded Sudan was immune from litigation under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.
The attacks killed more than 220 people and left thousands wounded.
Starting in 2001, many of the victims and their family members sued Sudan in federal court, arguing that Sudan helped Al Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden carry out the attacks targeted at US government facilities.
In 2011, in the trial which Sudan did not participate, Judge John D. Bates of the Federal District Court in Washington found that Sudan had provided crucial assistance to Al Qaeda and Osama.
“Sudan harboured and provided sanctuary to terrorists and their operational and logistical supply network,” Judge Bates wrote.
“Bin Laden and Al Qaeda received the support and protection of the Sudanese intelligence and military from foreign intelligence services and rival militants. Sudan provided bin Laden and Al Qaeda hundreds of Sudanese passports. The Sudanese intelligence service allowed Al Qaeda to travel over the Sudan-Kenya border without restriction.”
The judge awarded the plaintiffs about $10.2 billion (KSh1.02 trillion) in damages, including roughly $4.3 billion (Ksh430 billion) in punitive damages.
Foreign nations are ordinarily immune from suits in American courts.
But Congress, in the laws amended in 2008, authorized an exception to the law for damages claims in terrorism cases.
Under the 1996 law, plaintiffs were allowed to seek compensation for their losses but not punitive damages, which are meant to punish and deter wrongdoing.
Sudan had appealed against judge Bate’s ruling saying the punitive award was improper.
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed, vacating in 2017 the punitive awards.
While Judge Bates ruling awarded punitive damages to two classes of plaintiffs, the Monday ruling applied to one of them, including United States nationals, members of the military and government employees and contractors.
But the court said the appeals court should address whether the second class of plaintiffs, foreign-national family members of government employees and contractors, were entitled to punitive awards.
This then means that the Monday ruling did not cover Kenyan relatives of embassy workers or private contractors killed or injured in the bombings.