?This is their money, not ours,? they wrote in a letter about billions of dollars frozen by Washington
Dozens of families whose loved ones were killed in the 9/11 terrorist attack have asked President Joe Biden to ensure that billions of dollars in Afghan funds frozen by the US cannot be used to cover claims for damages against the Taliban.
"Any use of the $7 billion to pay off 9/11 family member judgments is legally suspect and morally wrong," they said in a letter sent to the White House on Tuesday. Some of the signatories have filed for compensation, but don't want to be awarded money they believe "belongs to the Afghan people and the Afghan people alone." Politico was the first media outlet to report the contents of the correspondence.
The funds are owned by Afghanistan's central bank and were seized by the US when the Washington-backed government in Kabul collapsed in August last year, while Taliban forces were advancing on the capital. In February, Biden signed an executive order that protected half of the $7 billion from legal claims, leaving the other half exposed.
The White House said it is exploring ways to spend the money for the benefit of the Afghan people, while preventing it from getting into the hands of "the Taliban and malicious actors." The letter calls on Biden to modify his order, ensuring that the entire sum is safeguarded for that purpose.
"Victims of terrorism, including 9/11 victims, are entitled to their day in court. But they are not entitled to money that lawfully belongs to the Afghan people," it said.
Some 150 family members of 9/11 victims sued the Taliban and Al-Qaeda almost two decades ago and, after years of court proceedings, secured $7 billion in damages. Part of the community believes that since the Taliban is back in power in Afghanistan, the US-seized Afghan funds belong to the militant movement and should be used to cover the claims.
"The Afghans had every opportunity to fight back against the Taliban," Brett Eagleson, who represents the group of claimants eyeing the frozen assets, told Politico in February. "I don't see how they can claim it as their money."
The debate over the right way to spend the money is further complicated by the economic crisis and likely famine that Afghanistan is now facing. An overwhelming 95% of its population are not getting enough food, according to the UN.
Some humanitarian groups say concerns about aid getting into the Taliban's hands are misplaced, since they operated successfully for years in Taliban-controlled parts of Afghanistan while the government in Kabul was allied with the US.