Providing material support for terrorism

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In United States law, providing material support for terrorism is a crime prohibited by the USA PATRIOT Act and codified in title 18 of the United States Code, sections 2339A and 2339B. It applies primarily to groups designated as terrorists by the State Department. The four types of support described are "training," "expert advice or assistance," "service," and "personnel."

In June 2010, the United States Supreme Court upheld the law in an as-applied challenge in the case Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, but also left open the door for other as-applied challenges.[1] The defendants in the case had sought to help the Kurdistan Workers' Party in Turkey and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam learn means of peacefully resolving conflicts.[2][3]


The material support provisions have been criticized by rights groups as violating the First Amendment, as they criminalize activities like the distribution of literature, engaging in political advocacy, participating in peace conferences, training in human rights advocacy, and donating money and humanitarian assistance, even when the support is intended only to promote lawful and non-violent activities.[4] The provisions are vague and wide-ranging, and impose guilt by association by punishing people not for their own acts but for the acts of those they have supported.[4] The Secretary of State's power to designate groups as terrorist has also been criticized as being too broad, giving the Executive too much discretionary power to label groups as "terrorist" and criminalize their supporters.[4] The American Civil Liberties Union note that: "Federal 'material support' and conspiracy statutes allow the government to secure convictions without having to show that any specific act of terrorism has taken place, or is being planned, or even that a defendant intended to further terrorism."[5]

David D. Cole, in his book Terrorism and the Constitution, stated that:

... after lying virtually dormant for its first six years of existence, the material support law has since 9/11 become the Justice Department's most popular charge in antiterrorism cases. The allure is easy to see: convictions under the law require no proof that the defendant engaged in terrorism, aided or abetted terrorism, or conspired to commit terrorism. But what makes the law attractive to prosecutors—its sweeping ambit—is precisely what makes it so dangerous to civil liberties.[6]

Professor Jeanne Theoharis describes the measures in equally critical terms:

Material support laws are the black box of domestic terrorism prosecutions, a shape-shifting space into which all sorts of constitutionally protected activities can be thrown and classified as suspect, if not criminal. Their vagueness is key. They criminalize guilt by association and often use political and religious beliefs to demonstrate intent and state of mind.[7]

US Senator Patrick Leahy sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding humanitarian relief in Somalia in 2011. "I have long urged reform of our laws governing so-called material support for terrorism. The current law is so broad as to be unworkable. Aid workers trying to provide relief to starving Somalis fear they could be prosecuted if some of it were to end up in the hands of al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda affiliate that controls parts of Somalia. And so while the situation in Somalia grows more desperate each day, with children dying needlessly, the delivery of food and medicines is hampered, first by al-Shabab, which is denying access to broad swaths of Somali territory, and secondly, by our overly restrictive laws. The Secretary of State has the power to grant exemptions where the purpose is not to engage in terrorist activity. She should use that authority immediately to ensure aid can reach as many Somalis as possible."[8]


The following people have been charged or convicted of providing material support for terrorism under this law.

In September 2010 the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided activists in Minneapolis and Chicago, seizing computers, cell phones and files and issuing subpoenas to some targeted individuals to appear before a federal grand jury. The FBI agents were seeking evidence of ties to foreign terrorist organizations, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.[18][19] Attorneys linked the raids to the Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project decision.[20][21]

in January 2016, social networking service Twitter was sued by the widow of a U.S. man killed in the Amman shooting attack, claiming that allowing ISIL to use the platform constituted material support of a terrorist organization.[22] The lawsuit was dismissed under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which dictates that the operators of an interactive computer service are not liable for content published on the service by others.[23]

During the Syrian Civil War a naturalized U.S. citizen of Bosnian origin joined ISIL and died while fighting. In 2015 six Bosnian residents of the U.S. were charged with providing material support for terrorism.[24][25] The six sent funds ranging from $150 to $1,850, and also "U.S. military uniforms, tactical clothes and gear, combat boots, military surplus supplies and other items from businesses in St. Louis" in August 2013.[26][27]


  1. ^ "08-1498 Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project (06/21/2010)" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on August 28, 2017. Retrieved August 27, 2017.
  2. ^ Adam Liptak, Court Affirms Ban on Aiding Groups Tied to Terror Archived 2017-08-28 at the Wayback Machine, The New York Times, June 21, 2010.
  3. ^ Ruane, Kathleen Ann. The Advocacy of Terrorism on the Internet: Freedom of Speech Issues and the Material Support Statutes Archived 2016-09-28 at the Wayback Machine. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, September 8, 2016.
  4. ^ a b c "Factsheet: Material Support | Center for Constitutional Rights". Archived from the original on June 30, 2014. Retrieved July 16, 2014.
  5. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on August 6, 2014. Retrieved July 16, 2014.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ David Cole and James X. Dempsey (2006) Terrorism and the Constitution: Sacrificing Civil Liberties in the Name of National Security (New Press)
  7. ^ Theoharis, Jeanne (March 1, 2010). "U.S. citizen's solitary confinement raises serious questions". Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved August 27, 2017.
  8. ^ "Press Release | Press Releases | Press | U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont". September 27, 2012. Archived from the original on December 11, 2016. Retrieved August 27, 2017.
  9. ^ "US court tosses Australian's Guantanamo conviction". 7 News. February 19, 2015. Archived from the original on February 24, 2015.
  10. ^ "Attorney who helped terrorist gets 10 years in prison". New York Post. July 15, 2010. Retrieved December 3, 2010.
  11. ^ Tran, Mark (June 5, 2007). "Profile: Salim Ahmed Hamdan". The Guardian. London. Retrieved August 1, 2007.
  12. ^ "Minneapolis Man Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Provide Material Support to al Qaeda". Federal Bureau of Investigation. May 20, 2009. Archived from the original on May 23, 2009. According to the plea agreement, from about March 2000 through at least December 2003, Warsame conspired with others to provide material support to al Qaeda in the form of personnel, training, and currency. Specifically, in March 2000, Warsame traveled to Afghanistan where he attended an al Qaeda training camp outside Kabul. In the summer of 2000, he then traveled to the al Faruq training camp, where he received further training and met Osama Bin Laden. Warsame subsequently worked at an al Qaeda guesthouse and clinic.
  13. ^ "Minneapolis Man Sentenced for Conspiracy to Provide Material Support to al Qaeda". Federal Bureau of Investigation. July 9, 2009. Archived from the original on August 15, 2009.
  14. ^ Tarm, Michael; Sophia Tareen (January 24, 2013). "American Mumbai Plotter Sentenced to 35 Years". ABC News. Associated Press. Archived from the original on January 31, 2013. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
  15. ^ Sweeney, Annie (January 24, 2013). "Chicago man gets 35 years in Mumbai terror attack". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on January 24, 2013. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
  16. ^ "David Headley has no right to live: relative of 26/11 US victims". Press Trust of India appearing on January 24, 2013. Archived from the original on January 25, 2013. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
  17. ^ Translating Terrorism: Is publishing radical Islamic texts on the Internet a crime? Archived 2014-09-04 at the Wayback Machine By Mark Joseph Stern, Slate, Sept. 3, 2014
  18. ^ Colin Moynihan, F.B.I. Searches Antiwar Activists' Homes Archived 2017-02-25 at the Wayback Machine, New York Times, September 24, 2010
  19. ^ Search warrant Archived 2010-10-08 at the Wayback Machine and subpoena Archived 2010-10-08 at the Wayback Machine (Indymedia)
  20. ^ Sheila Regan, FBI raids activist homes in Minneapolis, Chicago Archived 2011-01-19 at the Wayback Machine, Twin Cities Daily Planet, September 24, 2010.
  21. ^ Activists to Protest Recent FBI Raids on Anti-War Members Archived 2010-09-30 at the Wayback Machine, Associated Press, September 24, 2010.
  22. ^ "Lawsuit Blames Twitter for ISIS Terrorist Attack". Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on January 17, 2016. Retrieved January 16, 2016.
  23. ^ "Twitter is not legally responsible for the rise of ISIS, rules California district court". The Verge. Vox Media. August 10, 2016. Archived from the original on August 10, 2016. Retrieved August 11, 2016.
  24. ^ "Feds lodge terror charges against six". USA Today. Archived from the original on July 15, 2018. Retrieved January 31, 2019.
  25. ^ "Abdullah Ramo Pazara". November 13, 2015. Archived from the original on September 30, 2017. Retrieved January 31, 2019.
  26. ^ Masunaga, Samantha (February 8, 2015). "6 Bosnian immigrants indicted in alleged overseas terror financing ring". Archived from the original on September 30, 2017. Retrieved January 31, 2019 – via LA Times.
  27. ^ Goudie, Chuck (July 21, 2017). "Suburban mom claims 'combatant immunity' in terror case". ABC 7. Archived from the original on December 6, 2018. Retrieved January 31, 2019.