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US judge say 9/11 victims not entitled to seize Afghan central bank assets

Manhattan magistrate said allowing seizures would effectively acknowledge Taliban as the Afghan government
Nearly 3,000 people died on 11 September 2001, when planes were flown into New York's World Trade Center, the Pentagon in northern Virginia, and a Pennsylvania field (AFP)

A US judge has recommended that victims of the 11 September 2001 on the United States should not be allowed to seize billions of dollars of assets belonging to Afghanistan's central bank to satisfy court judgements they obtained against the Taliban.

US Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn in Manhattan on Friday said Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB) was immune from jurisdiction, and that allowing the seizures would effectively acknowledge the Taliban as the Afghan government, something only the US president can do.

"The Taliban's victims have fought for years for justice, accountability, and compensation. They are entitled to no less," Netburn wrote. 

"But the law limits what compensation the court may authorise and those limits put the DAB's assets beyond its authority."

Netburn's recommendation will be reviewed by US District Judge George Daniels in Manhattan, who also oversees the litigation and can decide whether to accept her recommendation.

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The decision is a defeat for four groups of creditors that sued a variety of defendants, including al-Qaeda, they held responsible for the 11 September attacks, and obtained default judgments after the defendants failed to show up in court, Reuters reported.

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

The United States ousted the Taliban and al-Qaeda in late 2001, but the Taliban returned to power a year ago when US and other western forces withdrew from the country.

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

'Right thing'

The groups have been trying to tap into some of the $7bn of 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 $3.5bn of that sum set aside "for the benefit of the Afghan people", leaving victims to pursue the remainder in court.

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

It urged Netburn and Daniels to view exceptions to sovereign immunity narrowly, citing the risks of interference with the president's power to conduct foreign relations and possible challenges to American property located abroad.

Other countries hold about $2bn of Afghan reserves.

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

"The judge has done the right thing here," he said.

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

US sanctions ban doing financial business with the Taliban but allow humanitarian support for the Afghan people.

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