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Civil Actions and Liability

The civil liability of a defendant for terrorist activities arises under the following circumstances:

  • where a plaintiff is injured by reason of the act of international terrorism[i];
  • where a defendant violates the statutes barring material support or resources to a terrorist or a terrorist organization[ii]; and
  • where a defendant aids and abets an act of terrorism[iii].


According to 18 USCS § 2333(a), any person, whose person, property, or business is injured by international terrorism acts, can file a motion before the appropriate U.S. district court for damages.  Therefore, in order to impose  civil liability, a plaintiff must be injured by reason of the act of international terrorism[iv].  Apart from the damages, s/he can also recover the cost of the suit, including attorney’s fees.  It is under this statute that the victims of September 11, 2001 recovered damages.

A civil action against terrorist acts must be filed in the federal district courts within four years[v] from the date of cause of action[vi].  The time period of four years can be altered in the following circumstances[vii]:

  • where a defendant is absent from the U.S. for the last four years; and
  • where the whereabouts of a defendant is concealed for the past four years.


A defendant cannot escape civil liability if the plaintiff adduces evidence to the fact that the defendant knew, desired to help, and helped an organization’s illegal activity.  However, a donor who gives money to a group that sponsors terrorism without knowledge about donee’s involvement in terrorist activities cannot be held liable for international terrorism.  Hence, a defendant will be held liable only for those injuries that might have reasonably been anticipated as a natural consequence of the defendant’s actions[viii].

However, no civil action can be maintained against:

  • the U.S., or an agency or officer of the U.S. acting in official capacity or legal authority[ix];
  • a foreign state, or an agency or officer of such foreign state acting in their official capacity or legal authority[x]; and
  • injury or loss by reason of an act of war[xi].


[i] Goldberg v. UBS AG, 660 F. Supp. 2d 410 (E.D.N.Y. 2009).

[ii] Linde v. Arab Bank, PLC, 353 F. Supp. 2d 327 (E.D.N.Y. 2004).

[iii] Strauss v. Credit Lyonnais, S.A., 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 72649 (E.D.N.Y. Oct. 5, 2006).

[iv] Weiss v. Nat’l Westminster Bank PLC, 453 F. Supp. 2d 609 (E.D.N.Y. 2006).

[v] 18 USCS § 2338(a).

[vi] 18 USCS § 2338.

[vii] 18 USCS § 2335(b).

[viii] Butler v. State, 608 So. 2d 773 (Ala. Crim. App. 1992).

[ix] 18 USCS § 2337(1).

[x] 18 USCS § 2337(2).

[xi] 18 USCS § 2336(a).

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