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Two airlines face a $2.8 billion suit over what the leasholders of the Twin Towers claim was lax security. Photo: Getty Images

American Airlines and United Continental must face trial over a lawsuit in which the lease holders of the World Trade Centre allege that lax security allowed hijackers to destroy the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.

Federal Judge Alvin Hellerstein in New York this week rejected a motion by American and United to have World Trade Centre Properties' suit seeking compensation thrown out.

The "defendants' motion is denied," the judge ruled, court papers show. "The overlap between WTCP's insurance recovery and its potential tort recovery presents issues of fact requiring trial."

Al-Qaeda terrorists in hijacked planes from the two airlines smashed into the World Trade Centre's biggest skyscrapers on September 11, 2001, demolishing both in a fiery collapse that killed almost 3000 people.

The owners had paid $US2.805 billion ($2.75 billion) for the lease to the World Trade Centre only two months before.

WTCP says that the airlines' poor security at the time was to blame for their losses.

"But for the Aviation Defendant's negligence, the terrorists could not have boarded and hijacked the aircraft and flown them into the Twin Towers," the plaintiff alleges.

In his ruling, Hellerstein imposed a limit on what WTCP can seek of $US2.805 billion - the value of the lease - rather than the plaintiff's original sum of $US8.4 billion ($8.25 billion), which it said would amount to a replacement for the lost towers.

The airlines had argued that WTCP had no right to seek further compensation as it has already received $US4.091 billion ($4 billion) in insurance money.

AFP