Mobile operator MTN has been named in a lawsuit filed in a top US court for allegedly supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan by making protection payments, and deactivating its cellular network at night because the Taliban told it to.
The complaint was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Colombia on December 27 on behalf of 385 Americans, including families of US servicemen killed in Afghanistan.
“MTN is reviewing the details of the report and is consulting its advisers but remains of the view that it conducts its business in a responsible and compliant manner in all its territories and so intends to defend its position where necessary,” the mobile operator said in an update to shareholders on Monday.
It is one of eight multinational companies named in the complaint.
MTN said in its notice that the complaint was filed “on behalf of American service members and civilians, and their families, who were killed or wounded in Afghanistan between 2009 and 2017.
“The complaint alleges that several Western businesses supported the Taliban by, inter alia, making payments to ensure the protection of their infrastructure.”
According to a statement by Sparacino PLLC, one of the law firms that filed the complaint, MTN and the other defendants are accused of “knowingly or recklessly supporting a terrorist campaign that attacked, killed, and wounded thousands of Americans in Afghanistan.”
Court filings allege that MTN Afghanistan made protection payments to the Taliban from 2006 to the present. “MTN’s overall payments to the Taliban reached tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars.
The plaintiffs also accuse MTN of supporting the Taliban by deactivating cell towers on the Taliban’s request. “In or about 2008, the Taliban began demanding that Afghanistan’s major cellular-phone providers switch off their towers at night. The Taliban justified that demand by arguing that coalition forces were ‘using the cellular networks to track its insurgents throughout the war-torn country,” the complaint reads.
The plaintiffs want MTN and the other corporations to be held liable under US anti-terrorism law, and for them to pay “compensatory and punitive damages to the maximum extent permitted by law,” among other demands
An MTN spokesperson told Fin24 via email that at this stage the group will not be issuing further comment on the matter.