9/11 victims barred from seizing Afghan central bank assets, US judge says

A US judge has recommended that victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks not be allowed to seize billions of dollars in assets belonging to the Afghan central bank to satisfy judgments they obtained against the Taliban.

US Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn in Manhattan said Da Afghanistan Bank was immune from jurisdiction and allowing the seizures would effectively recognize the Islamist militant group as the Afghan government, something only the US president can do.

“Taliban victims have fought for years for justice, accountability and compensation. They deserve no less,” Justice Netburn wrote.

“But the law limits the awards the court can authorize and those limits place the DAB’s assets beyond its authority.”

Washington froze Afghan government funds after the Taliban took over military power in August last year.

However, he has come under pressure to find a way to release the money without acknowledging the new Afghan administration, which claims it as its own.

Judge Netburn’s recommendation will be reviewed by U.S. District Judge George Daniels in Manhattan, who is also overseeing the litigation and can decide whether to accept his recommendation.

The ruling is a defeat for four creditor groups who sued various defendants they held responsible for the September 11 attacks, including al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and won default judgments after the defendants failed to appear. presented in court.

Lawyers for the groups did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

At the time of the attacks, the ruling Taliban allowed al-Qaeda to operate in Afghanistan.

The United States ousted the Taliban and al-Qaeda at the end of 2001, but the Taliban returned to power a year ago when American and Western forces withdrew from the country.

Men in white robes with caps leave a building.
The Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August.(Reuters: Evgenia Novozhenina)

Biden Executive Order

Creditor groups have tried to tap into some of the $7 billion in Afghan central bank funds that are frozen at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York.

In an executive order in February, US President Joe Biden ordered that $3.5 billion of that sum be set aside “for the benefit of the Afghan people”, leaving the victims to sue the rest in court.

The US government took no position at the time on whether creditor groups were entitled to recover funds under the Terrorism Insurance Act of 2002.

He urged Ms. Netburn and Mr. Daniels to consider exceptions to sovereign immunity narrowly, citing risks of interference with the president’s power to conduct foreign relations and possible challenges to US assets located overseas. .

Other countries hold about $2 billion in Afghan reserves.

A woman in a niqab sits on the ground, holding a pale-looking four-year-old girl.
Afghanistan is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis.(AP Photo: Mstyslav Chernov)

Shawn Van Diver, the head of #AfghanEvac, which helps evacuate and resettle Afghans, said he hoped frozen funds could be used to help Afghanistan’s struggling economy without enriching the Taliban.

“The judge did the right thing here,” he said.

Nearly 3,000 people died on September 11, 2001, when planes flew into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in northern Virginia and a field in Pennsylvania.

US sanctions prohibit doing financial business with the Taliban, but allow humanitarian support to the Afghan people.

September 11 terrorist attacks
Firefighters and rescuers sift through the rubble after the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City were destroyed by terrorists in hijacked commercial planes.(BETH A. KEISER/AFP via Getty Images)

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