Drawing a Line in the Sand: Personal Jurisdiction for Acts of Terrorism


The Second Circuit today issued a noteworthy decision on whether and when foreign individuals are subject to personal jurisdiction in U.S. Courts for acts of international terrorism. See In re Terrorist Attacks on September 11, 2001, No. 06-cv-0319 (2d Cir., August 14, 2008). In a case that sought to hold Saudi Arabia and four of its princes liable for the Sept. 11 attacks—because they allegedly provided financial and logistical support to al Quaeda—the court held that the defendants are protected by sovereign immunity from suit in their official capacities, and that there is no personal jurisdiction to sue them in their personal capacities.

On the jurisdictional question (part VI of the decision), the court contrasted this case with “five opinions from other circuits” which held foreign persons amenable to suit for acts of terrorism. Those cases all involved defendants who had consciously and purposely “directed terror” at the United States and/or its citizens (e.g. Osama bin Laden, an individual al Quaeda member who fought U.S. forces in Afghanistan, the Republic of Libya with regard to Pan Am Flight 103, and the Republic of Iraq with regard to the invasion of Kuwait). In this case, however:

Th[e] burden [of establishing the necessary jurisdictional nexus] is not satisfied by the allegation that the Four Princes intended to fund al Qaeda through their donations to Muslim charities. Even assuming that the Four Princes were aware of Osama bin Laden’s public announcements of jihad against the United States and al Qaeda’s attacks on the African embassies and U.S.S. Cole, their contacts with the United States would remain far too attenuated to establish personal jurisdiction in American courts. It may be the case that acts of violence committed against residents of the United States were a foreseeable consequence of the princes’ alleged indirect funding of al Qaeda, but foreseeability is not the standard for recognizing personal jurisdiction. Rather, the plaintiffs must establish that the Four Princes “expressly aimed” intentional tortious acts at residents of the United States. Providing indirect funding to an organization that was openly hostile to the United States does not constitute this type of intentional conduct. In the absence of such a showing, American courts lacked personal jurisdiction over the Four Princes.

How Appealing” initially reported on the decision, as did the Associated Press.