European Court Backs Germany in Case Over 2009 Killings of Afghan Civilians

The site where American jets bombed fuel tankers hijacked by the Taliban, outside Kunduz, Afghanistan, in 2009.

BERLIN — The European Court of Human Rights ruled Tuesday in favor of Germany in a dispute with Afghan civilians who challenged the country’s investigation into a 2009 attack on oil tankers in Afghanistan that killed more than 90 civilians.

In its ruling, the court, based in Strasbourg, France, found that the German investigation into the bombing did not violate the European human rights convention.

The night of the attack, Taliban fighters had hijacked two tankers carrying NATO fuel, but they got stuck on a sandbank in the Kunduz River, about four miles from the NATO base in Kunduz, Afghanistan.

Col. Georg Klein, who at the time served as commander of the NATO base in Kunduz, called in U.S. military planes to bomb the tankers, saying he believed that only insurgents were in the area and feared the Taliban could use them to carry out attacks. But dozens of local Afghans had swarmed the tanks, after the Taliban had invited them to siphon off fuel. A German army investigation later determined that as many as 90 civilians had been killed.

Abdul Hanan, who lost his sons, Abdul Bayan, 12, and Nesarullah, 8, in the Sept. 3, 2009 NATO airstrike ordered by Colonel Klein brought the case before the European court after several lawsuits in the German judicial system.

The court found that the decision by German Federal Prosecutor to drop an investigation into the commanding general was justified “because he had been convinced, at the time of ordering the airstrike, that no civilians had been present” at the site of the attack.

The German Parliament held a public investigation into the bombing, which has also been challenged in several German courts. Mr. Hanan had argued that Germany had protected Colonel Klein and others he claimed were responsible for covering up the airstrike.

The court found that the decision by German Federal Prosecutor to drop an investigation into the commanding general was justified “because he had been convinced, at the time of ordering the airstrike, that no civilians had been present” at the site of the attack.

The German Parliament held a public investigation into the bombing, which has also been challenged in several German courts. Mr. Hanan had argued that Germany had protected Colonel Klein and others he claimed were responsible for covering up the airstrike.

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