White House mulls whether frozen Afghan funds can pay 9/11 families: report

President Biden
Associated Press/Susan Walsh

Top Biden administration officials are reportedly considering how the families of 9/11 victims could potentially seize frozen funds from the Taliban without the U.S. government legitimizing the group’s rule of Afghanistan. 

Roughly 150 family members of victims who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks sued targets that included al Qaeda and the Taliban almost 20 years ago. The groups were later found liable in the legal battle and ordered to pay $7 billion in damages, but the families lacked a way to collect the payment, The New York Times reported on Monday. 

The Taliban, which overtook Kabul in August, have said that Afghanistan’s central bank account at the Federal Reserve in New York belongs to them, and the plaintiffs in that lawsuit say some of that money should be redirected to them, according to the Times.

The Biden administration intends to tell a court by Friday what outcome would be in the best national interest as the Justice Department works with the families’ lawyers to discuss a possible deal to split up the money should the government support their efforts to claim it, the newspaper added.

It is unclear, however, what position the U.S. government will take, as well as what it is able to do. Per long time counterterrorism sanctions the U.S. imposed on the Taliban, it is illegal to conduct financial transactions with them.

Two plaintiffs, Fiona Havlish, whose husband worked in the South Tower of the World Trade Center, and Ellen Saracini, whose husband piloted one of the hijacked planes that crashed into the buildings, specifically called on President Biden to help them.

“After our husbands were killed in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, we have spent many years fighting to achieve justice on their behalf,” they said in a statement to the Times.

“Together with the others in our case, we obtained an enforceable money judgment against the Taliban and now call on President Biden to ensure the funds we have attached go to us and not the terrorists who played a role in taking the lives of our loved ones,” they added.

Billions of dollars in Afghan assets are stored overseas with the Federal Reserve as well as with European central banks, but those assets have been frozen since the Taliban’s takeover. 

The Taliban have called on Congress to release the frozen funds to them as Afghanistan endures economic strife.

“Freezing of assets and economic sanctions can harm systems of health, education and other civil services,” the Taliban said in a letter to the U.S. lawmakers earlier this month. 

Tags Afganistan Joe Biden Taliban

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