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Families of 9/11 victims not entitled to Afghan bank funds: US judge

The file photo shows a man riding a bike in front of Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB) in Kabul, Afghanistan, on October 8, 2021. (Photo by Reuters)

A US federal judge has ruled that victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks are not allowed to seize billions of dollars in frozen funds belonging to Afghanistan's central bank, saying such a move would be "unconstitutional."

US District Judge George Daniels made the decision on Tuesday, saying federal courts lacked legal jurisdiction to seize $3.5 billion in assets belonging to Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB) to pay the families of American 9/11 victims.

He said letting the families seize those assets would be unconstitutional because it would mean effectively recognizing the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, a decision he was "constitutionally restrained" from making.

"The judgment creditors are entitled to collect on their default judgments and be made whole for the worst terrorist attack in our nation's history, but they cannot do so with the funds of the central bank of Afghanistan," Daniels said in his 30-page decision.

"The Taliban — not the former Islamic Republic of Afghanistan or the Afghan people — must pay for the Taliban's liability in the 9/11 attacks," he added.

The Tuesday ruling upheld a magistrate judge's decision last August that recommended that the victims of 9/11 not seize cash from the Afghan central Bank.

Meanwhile, Lee Wolosky, a lawyer for one creditor group known as the Havlish plaintiffs, has condemned the latest ruling, saying the group would appeal.

"This decision deprives over 10,000 members of the 9/11 community of their right to collect compensation from the Taliban," he said. "We believe it is wrongly decided and will appeal."

The other creditor groups are also planning an appeal, a separate Tuesday court filing shows.

Back in February, the US Treasury Department announced plans to block half of the $7-billion Afghan funds frozen in the US banks to distribute it among the families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks. Washington also claimed that the other half would be allocated for humanitarian aid.

Afghanistan's central bank censured the plan, saying the funds had been invested in the US in line with international practices and belonged to the people of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has about $9 billion in assets overseas, including the $7 billion in the United States. The rest is mostly in Germany, the United Arab Emirates, and Switzerland.

Afghanistan's economy is teetering on the brink of collapse following a two-decade-long war that was launched by the US and its allies, which has left the country impoverished.

On September 11, 2001, a series of strikes killed nearly 3,000 people and caused about $10 billion worth of property and infrastructure damage in the United States. The al-Qaeda terrorist group claimed responsibility for those attacks.

Shortly afterwards, the United States invaded and occupied Afghanistan on the grounds that the then-Taliban government in Afghanistan was harboring al-Qaeda. Hundreds of thousands of Afghans died in the war.

The Taliban returned to power in 2021, twenty years after their ouster by US troops.

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