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Biden Executive Order Splits $7 Billion in Frozen Funds Between Afghans and 9/11 Victims


Staten Island, New York’s 9-11 Memorial “Postcards.” | Image by Jackie on Flickr

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President Biden is planning to split the $7 billion that Afghanistan’s central bank had deposited in New York before the Taliban takeover. The administration is seeking to steer a roughly equal amount toward aiding the Afghan people while also starting to clear a legal path for relatives of victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Biden’s executive order the morning of Friday, February 11 invokes emergency powers to consolidate and freeze all $7 billion in assets held in New York by the Afghan Central Bank. The administration said it would ask a judge for permission to transfer $3.5 billion to a trust fund it would establish to help the Afghan people with their needs, such as humanitarian aid.

In the order, Biden stated that the widespread humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, which includes the urgent needs of Afghans for food security, livelihood support, water, sanitation, health, hygiene, shelter and settlement assistance, and COVID-19-related aid, among other basic human needs, as well as the potential for a deepening economic collapse, pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the United States’ national security and foreign policy.

According to NPR, families of 9/11 victims have been pursuing financial compensation from the Taliban for years, and they have furthered their efforts following the Taliban’s takeover of the country this year and the freezing of Afghan assets. For months, the Biden administration has been debating how to proceed.

The administration has decided $3.5 billion should be used to administer humanitarian aid to the Afghan people, while the remaining $3.5 billion will remain in the U.S. and be “subject to ongoing litigation by U.S. victims of terrorism,” according to officials.

Officials in the administration assured the public that the claims of the terror victims will still be litigated.

“This is one step forward in a process. No funds are going to be transferred until the court makes a ruling,” a senior administration official told reporters in a call on Friday. “Some idea that we could just ignore the litigation in New York is just flatly wrong.”

CNN reports that a group representing some of the families affected by 9/11 do not approve of Biden’s administration to split the funds, arguing that all the relatives of victims, not just those suing, should be compensated with the frozen money.

“All family members of those killed on 9/11 in the terrorist attacks must be treated equally. Anything short of equitable treatment for and among the 9/11 families as it relates to these frozen assets is outrageous,” Brett Eagleson, whose father was a 9/11 victim, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Taliban has claimed ownership of the funds, which include assets such as currency and gold, but the U.S. has refused to give them access since Afghanistan’s democratic government collapsed last August. The Taliban is not recognized by the United States as Afghanistan’s government.

Mohammad Naeem, a spokesman of the Political Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, criticized the United States for not releasing the funds to Afghans in a tweet.

Translated from Arabic, it read, “[The United States] “stealing and disposing of the Afghani people’s money that was frozen … shows the highest level of human and moral decadence of the country and the people.”

In the months since the United States withdrew its troops completely and the central democratic government fell, Afghanistan’s economy has collapsed. As countries debated whether or not to send aid to the Taliban, international assistance has largely been cut off.

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