Taliban officials on Wednesday urged Washington to return frozen Afghan assets after a federal judge in New York ruled that families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks would not be allowed access to the evidence. The case also raised the issue of recognizing the regime that took back control of Afghanistan in 2021.
“These assets belong to Afghanistan. There should be no reason to freeze them or not return them to the Afghan people,” Taliban deputy spokesman Bilal Karimi told AFP on Wednesday.
He said they should be sent back unconditionally.
Shortly after the Taliban overran the Afghan government in August 2021, the US seized $3.5 billion in assets.
In February 2022, President Joe Biden signed an executive order allowing the seizure of $7 billion in reserves deposited in the United States, half of which would go toward compensation claims filed by families of victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks. For humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.
A group of families of 9/11 victims, which won a case against the Taliban several years ago, demanded that the funds be confiscated to honor the ruling.
A federal judge in New York ruled on Tuesday (21) that families of victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks cannot seize frozen assets of the Afghan central bank. Lawyers seeking compensation argued that the funds could satisfy the convictions they won against the Taliban.
The decision states that federal courts do not have jurisdiction to seize these funds.
“The Taliban must bear responsibility for the September 11 attacks, not the former Islamic Republic of Afghanistan or the people of Afghanistan,” the magistrate explained. According to the federal judge, the constitution “prevents” him from awarding these properties to the families because it would recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. However, since seizing Kabul in 2021, the Biden administration has not recognized the Taliban regime, meaning US courts are powerless to do so either.
According to the judge, court creditors have the right to collect the amount owed on the judgment, but cannot do so with funds from the Central Bank of Afghanistan. Those funds have been frozen in the United States since Aug. 15, 2021, the day the Taliban entered Kabul and the Washington-backed overthrow of the Afghan government.
The Central Bank of Afghanistan welcomed the decision. “These reserves are owned by Afghans and are aimed at monetary stability, strengthening the financial system and facilitating trade with the world,” the agency said in a statement.
Severe impact on families
The ruling is a blow to victims’ families and insurers who paid compensation after the attacks. “This decision deprives more than 10,000 members of the 9/11 community of their right to compensation from the Taliban,” said Lee Wolosky, a lawyer who advocated for compensation for victims. “We believe the decision is wrong and we will appeal,” he added.
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