WASHINGTON (Dispatches) -- A U.S. judge has ruled that victims of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks should not be allowed to seize billions of dollars of Afghanistan’s central bank assets to satisfy court judgments against the Taliban.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn in Manhattan stated that Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB) was immune from jurisdiction, and that allowing the seizures would effectively endorse the militant group as the Afghan government, a call that can only be made by the U.S. president.
“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 authorize, and those limits put the DAB’s assets beyond its authority.”
Netburn’s recommendation is to be reviewed by U.S. District Judge George Daniels in Manhattan, who also oversees the litigation and can overturn her recommendation.
The ruling marks a defeat for four groups of creditors that waged legal action against a variety of defendants, including the Al-Qaeda terrorist group that they hold responsible for the September 11 attacks, and obtained default judgments after the alleged defendants failed to show up in court.
The groups have been trying to tap into some $7 billion of Afghan central bank funds that are frozen at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York.
After the U.S. military occupation of Afghanistan, Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants were ousted from the country in late 2001, but the Taliban returned to power a year ago when American and other Western troops withdrew from the country.
In an executive order in February, U.S. President Joe Biden ordered $3.5 billion of that sum set aside “for the benefit of the Afghan people,” leaving 9/11 victims to pursue the remainder in court.
The U.S. government took no position at the time on whether the creditor groups were entitled to recover funds under the so-called Terrorist Risk Insurance Act of 2002.
It further called on 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.
Nearly 3,000 people died on September 11, 2001, when passenger planes were allegedly flown into New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon in northern Virginia, and a Pennsylvania field.
The official claim of airlines striking the structures has been strongly challenged by many critics, citing lack of verifiable evidence and close review of televised coverage of the incidents.