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What is Terrorism?

The international community has not agreed on a formal definition of terrorism, however, under U.S. law 18 U.S. Code § 2331, terrorism (whether foreign or domestic) includes any acts that are dangerous to human life in violation of the law and are intended to intimidate or coerce a population, influence governmental policy, or affect the conduct of a government.

Anti-Terrorism Act: Legal Options Available

The Anti Terrorism Act (ATA) is a decades-old statute designed to permit victims of terrorism to seek compensation from their attackers.

In 2016, the ATA changed significantly with the passage of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA). JASTA expanded the ATA to provide for aiding and abetting liability, permitting plaintiffs to bring actions against those who knowingly provide substantial assistance, or who conspired with foreign terrorist organizations.

Financial institutions and public companies have recently become targets of ATA actions on the theory that, by processing financial transactions and engaging in other commercial activities with terrorist groups, they are complicit in terrorist attacks.

For example, last year a group of U.S. military veterans and the relatives of troops killed in Iraq filed a lawsuit against several large international pharmaceuticals companies, accusing them of aiding and abetting terrorism by selling products to Iraq’s Ministry of Health, which were used to finance operations by the notorious Mahdi Army Group.  In early 2018, a woman injured in the 2015 Paris attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant sued Facebook, Twitter, and Google, alleging that the social media platforms assisted terrorists by allowing them to recruit members, distribute propaganda, and coordinate activities. These are just two recent examples of U.S. companies facing potential exposure under ATA.

Companies now face a greater risk of liability for inadvertently providing material support in the form of money, goods, or services to foreign terrorist organizations.  This risk is particularly significant for those entities doing business – even remotely over the internet – in countries or markets with a history of terrorist activity.

To establish liability under the ATA, a plaintiff must prove the following:

  • Act of International Terrorism: This includes any activities that “involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or of any State” and that “appear to be intended to coerce or intimidate a civilian population
  • Causation: Historically, plaintiffs were required to prove that a defendant’s conduct was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. However, as a result of JASTA, plaintiffs may pursue secondary liability on the argument that a defendant aided and abetted acts of terrorism by others – that acts caused plaintiff’s injuries.
  • Intent: A defendant either must knowingly engage in intentional misconduct or must have acted recklessly or willfully blind.

Acts of Terrorism Around The World

An act of terrorism is usually done on a large scale basis that is intended to grab the attention of a nation or even the entire world. They can result in a massive amount of property damage and the death of hundreds or even thousands of people. The goal of any terrorist strike is to invoke fear and use violence as a method of getting their point across, whether it be political, religious or of another nature.

One of the deadliest Acts of Terrorism carried out against U.S. soldiers was the USS Cole bombing that occurred in Yemen, on October 12th, 2000.

The attack was attributed to al Qaeda and foreshadowed the attack on the US less than one year later on September 11, 2001.

The explosion ripped a hole in the hull of the ship, killing 17 US sailors. Thirty-nine others were injured.

Recently, The US Supreme Court rules 8-1 against victims and families of the USS Cole attack in their lawsuit against Sudan, saying that the victims did not properly serve notice of their lawsuit to the government of Sudan.

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