March 28, 2023

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Sept. 11 families cannot halt U.S. decision on Afghan central bank asset seizure By Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A man rides a bike in front of the Bank of Afghanistan in Kabul, Afghanistan October 8, 2021. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A U.S. judge on Friday rejected a request by families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks not to enforce his decision against letting them seize $3.5 billion of frozen Afghan central bank assets to satisfy court judgments owed by the Taliban.

The families, comprising more than 10,000 people, had asked U.S. District Judge George Daniels in Manhattan to put his Feb. 21 decision on hold while they appeal.

They cited the public interest in enforcing terrorism-related judgments, and the “irreparable harm” they would face if assets belonging to Da Afghanistan Bank, or DAB, the central bank, were freed up.

But the judge said the families’ appeal was unlikely to succeed and there was no irreparable harm because of President Joe Biden’s Feb. 3 executive order on Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis that extended the asset freeze by one year.

“An important public interest lies in the enforcement of terrorism judgments,” Daniels wrote. “But that enforcement must be in accordance with the U.S. Constitution, federal statutes, and state law.”

Lawyers for the families did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In ruling against the families, Daniels said awarding them the frozen assets would effectively recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan’s legitimate government, which the Biden administration has not done.

Daniels said it was for the Taliban, and “not the former Islamic Republic of Afghanistan or the Afghan people,” to pay for its own liability in the Sept. 11 attacks, in which nearly 3,000 people died.

Biden froze about $7 billion of DAB funds at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York in February 2022, six months after the Taliban took over in Afghanistan. The president ordered $3.5 billion set aside to benefit the Afghan people, leaving the rest for the families to pursue.

The case is In re Terrorist Attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 03-md-01570.