Michael Tabman

International vs Domestic Terrorism ~ A Primer

In Crime and Security on April 18, 2013 at 2:52 pm

One of the first questions that arose after the Boston Marathon bombing, and continues to be asked, is whether this was an act of international or domestic terrorism.  Some clarification may help understand the nature of these investigations and subsequent prosecutions.

International and domestic terrorism are defined by United State Code Title 18 – Crimes and Criminal Procedure.  Accordingly, acts of terrorism are criminal acts and prosecuted as such.

International terrorism as defined in part, by Title 18 involve violent acts that are dangerous to human life, in violation of criminal laws and that occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.  There are additional factors relative to coercion and intimidation.

Domestic terrorism is defined basically as the same acts, except that the acts occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.  Those acts may include planning, training, obtaining materiel and other activities directly or indirectly related to the terrorist act.  The 9/11 hijackers were foreign nationals who acted inside the territorial United States.  However, as they planned, trained and initiated their terror outside the United States, they could have been prosecuted as international terrorists.  Someone who is domiciled in the United States, who planned and committed terrorism within United States territory, is a domestic terrorist.

So, what is the difference in prosecuting international vs. domestic terrorism?  International terrorism would be prosecuted under Title 18 Section 2332B – Acts of Terrorism Transcending National Boundaries.  Domestic terrorism may be prosecuted under various offenses such as use of weapons of mass destruction or explosive devices.

For example, Faisal Shahzad, known as the Times Square Bomber was an American, born in Pakistan.  Because he traveled outside the United States to train for his attack, he was charged with international terrorism.  However, he was also charged with using weapons of mass destruction as well as destructive and explosive devices – the same charges against the Atlanta Olympics Bomber Eric Rudolph and Oklahoma City Bomber Timothy McVeigh.

We seem to have a mental picture of what each type of terrorist looks like.  The perpetrator’s ethnicity or ideology is not the factor that differentiates international from domestic terrorism.

We must be cautious not to jump to conclusions or fall victim to the dark side of profiling.  After the Atlanta Olympics bombing, much law enforcement effort was expended targeting the wrong man who fit “the profile.”  If you are interested in profiling, please read my blog, The Last Criminal Profile.

This investigation of a heinous terrorist act is progressing quickly.  Arrests will be made soon.  Whether the Boston Marathon Bomber(s) is prosecuted under international or domestic terrorism statutes, there is one very important point to remember – they both carry the potential of the death penalty.

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