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

A US judge recommended on Friday that victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks not be allowed to seize billions of dollars in assets belonging to Afghanistan’s central bank to satisfy judgments they won 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,” Netburn wrote. “But the law limits the set-offs the court can authorize, and those limits place the DAB’s assets beyond its authority.”

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, including al-Qaeda, whom they held responsible for the September 11 attacks, and won default judgments after the defendants failed to appear in court. court.

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.

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

The groups have attempted to tap into some of the US$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 Netburn and 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.

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.