WASHINGTON — Exiled Afghans urge a federal judge to overturn the attempt by relatives of victims of the September 11 attacks to seize $3.5 billion in frozen Afghan central bank funds to pay off rulings owed by the Taliban to pay, to reject, according to recent court records.

In three files, groups of Afghans claimed that the frozen money belonged to the Afghan people, not the Taliban. They portrayed any misuse of the funds as illegal and immoral at a time when their country’s economy is collapsing, triggering a mounting humanitarian crisis and exodus of migrants.

Lawyers for Naseer Faiq, a former Afghan government diplomat who is continuing her mission to the United Nations over the Taliban’s objections, wrote that he “fully supports compensation for the victims of the Taliban”. But it was wrong to take that offset from assets he said belonged to the Afghan people as a whole, the lawyers said.

“That compensation cannot come from the Afghan people, who are morally or legally responsible for the tragic events of September 11, 2001, or the other terrorist acts perpetrated by the Taliban,” the letter continued. Many Afghans helped the United States fight the Taliban, it noted, arguing that the Afghan people were also victims of the Taliban.

The Afghans’ objections add to the dilemma with which the Federal District Court judge presiding over the complex lawsuit, Judge George B. Daniels of the Southern District of New York, still has to decide whether the money can be used to fund the families. to be paid from September. 11 victims. Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn helps him do that.

The high-stakes case stems from the extraordinary spectacle of a sanctioned terrorist organization that has taken over a country by military force, but is not recognized as its legitimate government. The case raises new legal issues covering issues such as foreign policy, international finance, counter-terrorism and domestic politics.

Two plaintiffs from a group that spearheaded the seizure of the money — Fiona Havlish and Ellen Saracini, who lost their husbands in the attacks — said in a statement that “our hearts are with the Afghan people who are suffering from the Taliban rule.”

But citing “the Taliban’s command over all aspects of life in Afghanistan, including the central bank,” they argued that “the court must apply the law as Congress has written it to comply with the judgments we have made.” and others have rightly spoken out against the Taliban for so many years.”

The dispute over the funds dates back to lawsuits filed years ago by relatives of those killed in the September 11 attacks. The families sued groups like Al Qaeda and the Taliban for their losses and won by default when the defendants failed to show up in court. At the time, the verdicts seemed symbolic because there was no way to collect the money.

But when the government collapsed during the Taliban takeover in August, the central bank — known as Da Afghanistan Bank or DAB — had amassed $7 billion in deposits with the New York Federal Reserve. Because it was no longer clear who had lawful access to those funds and sanctions banned financial transactions with the Taliban, the Federal Reserve suspended access to DAB’s account.

In September, lawyers for a group of plaintiffs in the Havlish case — about 150 people, attached to 47 estates of the nearly 3,000 people killed in the September 11 attacks — persuaded a judge to send a U.S. Marshal to investigate the Federal Reserve of New York. York with a writ of execution to seize Afghan funds to pay off his debt. That has caused a struggle from other groups of claimants demanding a share of the funds.

The Biden administration intervened, saying it wanted to study the matter before telling the court what the US government thought its interests were. President Biden used an executive order in February to formally freeze all funds and then set aside half for aid to the Afghan people.

The top State Department official for Afghanistan, Tom West, later said in an onstage interview that the government believed the best use of that $3.5 billion would be to recapitalize an independent central bank and revitalize the country’s collapsing financial system, rather than funding humanitarian aid such as food. and medicine.

Biden’s move left the remaining $3.5 billion in the central bank’s account for the families of the September 11 victims to continue to prosecute in court. Most – but not all – of the other groups of plaintiffs eventually agreed to support the Havlish group’s claim in exchange for what would be a proportionally smaller portion of the proceeds, subject to Judge Daniels’ approval.

But the judge has yet to determine whether the money can be used for that purpose. The board did not take a clear stance on what to do.

Under a 1978 law, the assets of a foreign state held in the United States are usually protected by sovereign immunity. But Congress has made a narrow exception for certain terrorism situations. A 2002 law says that if someone has been sentenced against a terrorist party for a terrorist act, the blocked assets of “any agency or agency of that terrorist party” can be seized to pay off the debt.

The 2002 law was used to seize assets belonging to Iran and Cuba, which had been classified as state sponsors of terrorism. The question is whether the Afghan central bank qualifies in the current circumstances – in which Afghanistan is not considered a state sponsor of terrorism, but a sanctioned terrorist group has seized control and become the de facto government of the country without being legally recognized.

The Havlish prosecutors have argued that the bank qualifies as a Taliban agency or instrument, and that transferring the assets would derive a measure of justice “from the terrorist group that nurtured, protected and supported Al Qaeda.”

But leaders of an Afghan civil society organization argued that paying off the Taliban’s debts with the Afghan people’s money would instead implicitly recognize the Islamist group’s “violent takeover of their country” and to be relieved of a judgment against without bearing the punitive consequences of the payment of the judgments.”

While Mr Biden’s move protected half of the Afghan bank’s assets from the 9/11 plaintiffs, the fact that he left the other half to sue them in court has sparked sharp criticism in Afghanistan, as well as some other family members. from Sept. 11 victims, who objected to the confiscation of the money.

Unfreeze Afghanistan, a US group that also opposes giving money to relatives of the 9/11 victims, instead advocated releasing the assets to the Afghan central bank so it could run the banking system and the wider economy. functioning – including through regular injections of hard currency.

The group’s brief suggested that the technocrats at the bank could operate currency infusions to get the Afghan economy functioning again without diverting the money to the Taliban, using checks and transferring the funds in tranches that are subject to supervision and any further transfers will be halted if that were to happen.

Faiq was more cautious, suggesting that the funds could eventually be used to recapitalize an independent central bank for the country “whenever and anyway, consistent with sanctions against the Taliban.”

Criticizing Biden’s move to protect only half of the bank’s assets from the lawsuits, a letter from nine former female Afghan leaders also said: “We don’t understand why this requested protection wouldn’t extend to the full $7 billion. it’s frozen.”

They added: “These funds were placed outside the country for the sole purpose of protecting them, and they are needed to support the Afghan currency. We would expect US authorities, including the courts, to protect our central bank’s assets – not just half, but in full.”

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