The families of US soldiers who were killed and injured in Afghanistan have alleged in court papers that MTN paid the Taliban for protection and deactivated its cell towers at the behest of the militants by switching off parts of its network at night to obstruct the US military operations that depended on active cell signals. Photo: REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
The families of US soldiers who were killed and injured in Afghanistan have alleged in court papers that MTN paid the Taliban for protection and deactivated its cell towers at the behest of the militants by switching off parts of its network at night to obstruct the US military operations that depended on active cell signals. Photo: REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

Families of US soldiers sue MTN for war crimes

By Dineo Faku Time of article published Dec 17, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - THE FAMILIES of US soldiers who were killed and injured in Afghanistan have alleged in court papers that MTN paid the Taliban for protection and deactivated its cell towers at the behest of the militants by switching off parts of its network at night to obstruct the US military operations that depended on active cell signals.

Ryan Sparacino, managing partner of Sparacino Plc, said MTN gave the Taliban enough money to commit every single attack many times over, with the mobile operator shutting its towers in the most contested, dangerous areas where the Taliban attacked his clients.

Sparacino said MTN also harboured anti-American motives as it aided its most important business partner, Iran.

“MTN professes outrage at these allegations, however, its evidence-free response rests mostly on rhetorical umbrage,” Sparacino said.

“What is outrageous is that a public company would partner with Iran, become Afghanistan’s largest mobilephone provider, use its position to support terrorists, and then try to dodge the only forum in which it will ever face accountability.”

The court papers, which were filed in a US court, claim that MTN contributed substantially to the Taliban’s terrorist insurgency through paying the group and deactivating cell towers.

The papers also claim that the shutting down its towers had the immediate aim of depriving US forces of vital intelligence.

“As MTN understood, the money and operational support it gave the Taliban – at a scale unrivalled by any other Western company – helped the terrorists kill and maim thousands of Americans.

“Plaintiffs and their family members are among the victims,” said the papers.

Families of the US soldiers who were killed or injured between 2009 and 2017 by the Taliban filed a case against MTN in December last year asserting claims for civil monetary relief under the US Anti-Terrorism Act.

In September, MTN requested the court to end the lawsuit and grant a judgment in its favour for two independent reasons – because the court lacked jurisdiction over MTN, which does not operate in the US, and because the complaint did not allege any conduct by MTN that would have violated the Anti-Terrorism Act.

The American victims’ families filed their papers in response to the request.

MTN spokesperson Nompilo Morafo said that the group remained of the view that the case should be dismissed.

“The plaintiffs cannot establish jurisdiction over MTN in the US or plead a viable claim,” Morafo said.

“Their response does not and could not fix those fundamental defects in their case.”

Morafo said that the plaintiffs’ response followed a schedule set by the court, under which MTN would now have an opportunity to file a written reply in support of its motion in February next year.

She said the next step after the written reply would be for the court to review the motion and make a determination.

A district judge presides over the case with the assistance of a magistrate.

Morafo said the magistrate would first issue a recommendation to the district judge on how to decide the motion to dismiss, and then further proceedings before the district judge were possible.

“The judges could schedule a hearing for the parties to make oral submissions or decide the motion on the written filings alone. There is no set timetable for the court’s ruling on the motion,” Morafo said.

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