9/11 families fight for over $3.5 billion in Taliban funds

A nasty battle is brewing among the families of 9/11 victims for more than $3.5 billion in Taliban funds.

The legal drama pits family members of 47 people killed in the terror attacks against relatives of nearly 3,000 others.

The conflict erupted in September, a month after the Taliban took over Afghanistan, when lawyers for around 150 members of the 47 families involved in a lawsuit titled “Havlish against Osama bin Laden”, quietly parted ways with the remains of 9/11 victim. community through legal action. This decision allowed the 47 families to collect the money first.

It paid off last month when President Biden released $7 billion in Taliban assets held in the United States, earmarking half for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan and releasing the other half for be distributed to the victims of September 11 and their relatives.

Today, other relatives among the 2,977 people killed on 9/11 are demanding that Taliban money be fairly distributed. A federal judge in Manhattan will decide the distribution.

“Anything not equal within the 9/11 community would be a failure of our justice system,” said Brett Eagleson, whose father, Bruce, a retail executive, was killed in the incident. South Tower collapse as he gave walkie-talkies to firefighters.

Families of 9/11 victims speak at a conference in August 2002.

Eagleson challenged lawyers representing the 47 families to ‘look me in the eye’ and give ‘one good reason’ why his father’s death ‘is worth less than the death of any of them’ . [their] clients.

While a vast majority of relatives of 9/11 victims could be excluded, the firms of eight attorneys who represent the Havlish families are poised to score hundreds of millions of dollars in legal fees.

Among them is Lee Wolosky, a lawyer and diplomat who advised the Biden administration on Afghan evacuees as a special adviser but left in January to join one of the law firms that will benefit, Jenner & Block.

Fiona and Donald Havlish at their wedding on August 9, 1993.
Fiona and Donald Havlish at their wedding on August 9, 1993.

Wolosky and another Manhattan firm attorney representing the Havlish plaintiffs, Douglas Mitchell, declined to comment.

Two of the eight attorneys, Dennis Pantazis and Richard Hailey, serve on an executive committee created by a federal judge in 2004 to “represent the interests” of all 9/11 plaintiffs.

Pantazis told the Post, “We have been pursuing the Taliban for almost two decades in accordance with the interests of all the 9/11 families. Ultimately, any allocation of funds does not depend on us and rests solely with the court. »

Another Havlish lawyer who asked not to be named dismissed criticism that their potential windfall is unfair.

Osama bin Laden in an October 2004 broadcast.
Osama bin Laden in an October 2004 broadcast.

“Twenty years ago, everyone thought we were crazy when we filed this lawsuit. When you’re successful, you’re ‘greedy lawyers,'” he said.

Lead plaintiff Fiona Havlish, whose insurance executive husband Donald Havlish died in the South Tower of the World Trade Center, called for peace in the 9/11 community in a joint statement to the Post with colleague Ellen Saracini, whose husband Victor Saracini was one of the pilots of the hijacked United Flight 175, which hit the South Tower.

“It is important for us to unite as much as possible. We share the same grief and the same goals,” Havlish and Saracini said.

Retired firefighter Jim Riches, whose son was killed in the 2001 terrorist attack, poses for a photo near his New York home.

Havlish’s lawyers convinced a Manhattan federal court in September to serve the New York Federal Reserve with a ‘writ of execution’ to seize Afghan government assets to satisfy more than $7 billion in default judgments that they had previously won against Bin Laden and the Taliban for a bargain. a decade ago.

The government has not taken a position on how the $3.5 billion released by Biden should be divided, leaving it up to the courts. Under New York law, however, Havlish litigants may have priority in collecting the money because they asserted a claim first.

Relatives in other Taliban lawsuits are demanding their fair share.

Brett Eagleson with his father Bruce Eagleson
Brett Eagleson with Father Bruce Eagleson, who was killed in the South Tower collapse while giving walkie-talkies to firefighters

“I feel like families are going to fight for this, and our lawyers are on it,” said Monica Iken, whose husband, bond trader Michael, was killed on 9/11. “We’ve all been affected, and it needs to be shared fairly among everyone who has lost a loved one.”

Retired FDNY Deputy Chief Jim Riches, whose firefighter son Jimmy perished, said of the suits: “They told us we would never get anything out of them. Now that the money has materialized, it’s family against family. They should just break it down into 2,900 ways.

Almost all of the families received several other rewards: payouts from the federal government’s original victim compensation fund, which distributed $7 billion to next of kin; lawsuit settlements with airlines; and $3.3 billion from the US Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund, established in 2015.

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