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Families suing South Africa’s MTN for allegedly aiding militants want case heard in U.S.

Families of hundreds of U.S. soldiers who are suing South African telecoms firm MTN for allegedly aiding militant groups in Afghanistan have filed papers challenging the firm’s argument that the case should not be heard in the United States.

The original suit, filed in December 2019 in the United States District Court in the District of Columbia, alleges that MTN violated the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act by paying protection money to al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

MTN, Africa’s largest mobile operator by subscribers, has denied the allegations, and reiterated on Wednesday it would “defend its position accordingly.”

In new court papers, filed on Tuesday by Washington-based law firms, the families’ argue that MTN must be held accountable in a U.S. court for the alleged offence.

“The Court should recognise and reject MTN’s argument for what it is: an attempt to enshrine a rule that a foreign company can obtain U.S. financing, use the financing to support terrorist attacks on Americans, and face no accountability for doing so,” the papers read.

The case centres around allegations that MTN paid more than $100 million to al-Qaeda and the Taliban so its cellular towers would not be targeted for destruction. MTN deactivated those towers at night, preventing U.S. intelligence operations, according to the suit.

In September, MTN lodged a motion to dismiss the suit, arguing the United States was not the proper jurisdiction for the case, and that it did not knowingly support the groups.

MTN head of corporate affairs Nompilo Morafo said on Wednesday MTN would “defend its position accordingly”, adding that the suit was not “viable”.

“MTN requested that the court end the lawsuit and grant a judgment in MTN’s favour for two independent reasons: because the court lacks jurisdiction over MTN, which does not operate in the U.S., and because the complaint does not allege any conduct by MTN that violated the Anti-Terrorism Act,” said Morafo.

MTN said it would now be allowed to file a written reply in support of its motion by Feb. 5. Reuters

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