Victim Toolbox: Information for Victims of Overseas Terrorism

Victim Toolbox: Information for Victims of Overseas Terrorism



We at DOJ/OVT have experience supporting U.S. citizen victims of overseas terrorism and their families in their quest for accountability. While we will never fully understand the depths of your personal experience of a terrorist attack nor be able to meet all your needs, we have compiled information - our services, U.S. Code legal definitions, victims’ rights, general information about terrorism abroad and common victim questions - that may help you and your loved ones in the aftermath of the terrorist attack. We also encourage you to review our resources section for additional information that is outside the scope of U.S. government services.

The toolbox includes the following:

  • Information and notification, including opportunities to share communication preferences and general information on privacy concerns;

  • Information on potential opportunities to participate in foreign criminal justice proceedings;

  • Guidance on how to connect with U.S. government partners for additional support;

  • Definitions you may find helpful;

  • Victims’ rights in foreign and domestic investigations and prosecutions; and

  • Common victims’ questions about terrorism, prosecution, investigation and assistance.

For further information on the resources and services captured in this toolbox please contact us.


Information & Notification

We at DOJ/OVT are here to provide you with available information about a foreign criminal justice system, rights you may have in a system, and information on what’s happening in the foreign case. We work to keep victims and their families informed about significant developments related to an overseas investigation and prosecution of a terrorist attack.

The availability of information and notification will depend on the foreign system. Information and notification will be provided on a case by case basis. The following are examples of the types of information and notification we may provide:

  • General information about the foreign government’s criminal justice process;

  • General information about the foreign system’s victims’ rights, if any;

  • Information about the foreign government's investigation and prosecution;

  • Ongoing notification about case events and proceedings;

  • Status and release of prisoners; and,

  • Referrals to partners for information about the U.S. criminal investigation and prosecution, if any.

DOJ/OVT is uniquely situated in the Department of Justice's (DOJ) National Security Division (NSD) to support U.S. victims of international terrorism through obtaining information and advocating for your voice to be heard around the world. Please know that while we are a critical partner with the U.S. investigatory and prosecution teams, DOJ/OVT can neither represent victims nor provide legal advice.

Victim Communication Preference

Would you like to receive notifications? Do you prefer email or a phone call? How often? We want to hear from you on your preferred method of communication. If you are a U.S. victim of an international terrorist attack and have not had the opportunity to provide us your preferred method of communication, follow up with the DOJ/OVT Attorney Advisor assigned to your case or email us at



We remain mindful of the privacy concerns of victims and their families. Although private information is safeguarded from public disclosure, when necessary, information may be shared with our U.S. government partners or may be shared with other U.S. law enforcement entities as appropriate. We use our best efforts to protect private information as possible. For more information read DOJ’s privacy policy.

We are here to help you understand what is happening in the foreign criminal justice system and participate in the process to the extent you desire and foreign law allows. We hope the following information helps provide a context for what is available, and what you may encounter or experience.


Criminal Justice Participation Assistance Fund (CJPAF)

Many U.S. citizen victims of overseas terrorism seek to be present at the foreign criminal justice proceedings. As a U.S. citizen victim of international terrorism, or as a family member of a deceased or injured victim, you may have the opportunity to attend the foreign criminal justice proceeding. The purpose of the Criminal Justice Participation Assistance Fund (CJPAF) is to provide you with financial support to participate in foreign criminal justice proceedings related to terrorist attacks. Transportation expenses of a support person may also be covered.

The funds are derived from the Crime Victims Fund/Antiterrorism Reserve, which is composed of fines and special assessments paid by convicted federal offenders. The CJPAF program is not derived from Federal or State tax monies.

For more information we encourage you to contact us.


Victim Impact Statement

You may have the opportunity to describe how the terrorist attack affected you and/or others close to you through a victim impact statement (VIS).

Whether a victim has the right to be heard through the criminal justice process will depend upon the laws of the foreign government. We will help you determine whether the foreign government will allow the submission of a VIS, and will assist in the drafting and delivery of your VIS.

While victim impact statements are enshrined in the U.S. criminal justice system, U.S. laws concerning victims’ rights are not applicable in foreign countries. The submission of a VIS, who is allowed to give a VIS, and how the VIS is to be submitted will vary with each foreign government.

Victim Impact Statement (Guide) (Coming Soon)

The aim of this guide is, to help you decide whether you wish to complete a statement and, if you do choose to submit a statement, to provide general information, such as: definitions, eligibility, procedures for completion and submission, and suggestions on how to get started and what to include.


Understanding Foreign Systems

Legal systems vary from country to country, and sometimes within a single country. We are here to help provide generalized information about foreign legal and court systems, as well as some basic legal concepts.

International Legal Systems: An Introduction (Guide) - An introduction to foreign criminal justice legal systems.


For more information about our activities in connection with terrorist attacks visit our Interactive World Map.


We can connect you to U.S. and foreign government and non-government service providers to address physical, psychological, and/or criminal justice system needs. For more information on U.S. government services:

U.S. Department of State

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

Office for Victims of Crime (OVC)

Office of the United States Attorney



A victim is (based on 42 U.S.C. § 10607):

  • A U.S. citizen;
  • Who suffered direct physical, emotional, or financial harm as a result of an act of overseas terrorism; or,
  • Spouse, parent, child, sibling, or legally designated representative of the victim, when the direct U.S. victim is a minor or is incompetent, incapacitated, or killed.

Overseas terrorism is (based on 18 U.S.C. § 2331):

  • Violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;
  • That are intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or affect the conduct of a government; and,
  • Occur outside the United States.

A support person, for the purposes of the Criminal Justice Participation Assistance Fund (CJPAF) program, accompanies a victim to the foreign criminal proceeding. This may be a spouse, domestic partner, family member, close friend, clergy, etc. Depending on the circumstances, the cost of one support person may be allowable under the CJPAF. Generally, if two victims can function as support persons for each other, no additional support person can be authorized. Special exceptions may be granted for victims with disabilities who have special needs that require the assistance of a personal care attendant. To learn more about support persons in reference to CJPAF, visit the CJPAF section under the Victim Toolbox’s Foreign System Participation tab.

What rights do I have?

Foreign Investigations & Prosecutions:

  • When the foreign government investigates and prosecutes the foreign terrorist attack, you may or may not have rights under foreign laws during the criminal justice process. We are here to help you find out what rights you may have in a foreign legal system and support your exercise of any rights. Please contact us with your questions.

  • U.S. crime victims’ rights laws do not apply to U.S. citizens during investigations and prosecutions in foreign criminal justice systems.

U.S. Investigations & Prosecutions:

  • If the FBI opens a U.S. criminal investigation into the attack, the FBI’s Victim Services Division (VSD), is responsible for providing mandatory services to victims, including information about the status of the U.S. investigation of the crime (42 U.S.C. § 10607) .

  • If the U.S. Department of Justice files charges in the U.S. court system related to a foreign attack, victims of that attack have rights during the prosecution (18 U.S.C. § 3771). For more information contact the United States Attorney’s Office that is handling the prosecution or the Crime Victims' Rights Ombudsman at

  • You can also learn more about crime victims’ rights in the U.S. court system from the Justice Department’s Office for Victims of Crime.

Victim Questions

DOJ/OVT has received the following questions from victims and the general public. These questions and answers are intended to provide you information and help clarify the criminal justice response to a terrorist attack that harms U.S. citizens. For additional information not appearing below or suggestions on content, contact us.

What can DOJ/OVT do for me?
How often will you contact me?
What can I do when working with U.S. Government personnel?
Where do you get your case information?
What types of victim services are available?
Who provides victim assistance?
Is a terrorist attack in a foreign country a crime under United States (U.S.) laws?
Will the FBI investigate the crime?
Will the crime be prosecuted and if so, where?
Why is the U.S. investigation and/or prosecution taking so long?



What can DOJ/OVT do for me?
We support U.S. victims of terrorism overseas by helping them navigate foreign criminal justice systems and by advocating for their voices to be heard around the world. Click
here to learn more about our office.

How often will you contact me?
We will work to keep victims and their families informed about significant developments related to an overseas investigation and prosecution of a terrorist attack. If you have not shared your preferred method of communication with DOJ/OVT staff, please
contact us.

What can I do when working with U.S. Government personnel?
In the aftermath of a terrorist attack, a victim’s access to information and support can be very important to them. Sometimes law enforcement or justice personnel may use acronyms, or legal terms and jargon that are unfamiliar. You may not fully understand what we mean, or appreciate how the information impacts you. It can also be stressful or intimidating to talk to people you don’t really know about the terrorist attack. Here are some general tips to help you when talking to us, or other government counterparts:

  • If you have questions, write them down in advance of phone calls or meetings;
  • Take notes during phone calls or meetings, so you will be able to review them later;
  • Ask for resources to address other needs related to the terrorist attack, like emotional health support for you or a loved one;
  • Ask for the person’s contact information, including a preferred method for you to follow up with them;
  • At the conclusion of the meeting, share any concerns and remaining questions. Even if the person can’t answer your questions immediately, he or she may be able to get back to you with more details later;
  • If helpful, bring a support person with you, or identify someone you can talk to before or after the phone call or meeting. This could be a family member, a friend, your clergy, or a mental health resource.

Where do you get your case information?
DOJ/OVT’s goal is to provide the most accurate information possible to U.S. victims of overseas terrorism. We strive to provide information that has been verified by a reliable resource. We do not typically provide updates based only on open source information (news reports, social media postings, etc.) that has not been verified. News and social media outlets can sometimes be wrong or misinformed. This means that you may see stories on the news or social media that will not necessarily be provided by our staff as an update to a U.S. victim of overseas terrorism. This is not a reflection of the attention we are paying to it. We care very much about providing you accurate up-to-date information, but we are not always in a position to confirm or deny open source reports.

What type of victim services are available?
There is an array of services for victims—medical, mental health and other social services; criminal justice system information; victim advocates to help navigate local, state, federal and/or international systems; and, crime victim expense reimbursement—offered at the local, tribal, state, federal and international levels. To learn more about available services, explore our
referrals, resources, and/or contact us.

Who provides victim assistance?
There are federal, state, local and international government and non-government programs that assist victims of crime, and more specifically U.S. victims of international terrorism. The U.S. Departments of Justice and State, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, have victim assistance-related responsibilities when an act of international terrorism affects U.S. citizens overseas. To learn more about U.S. government victim assistance, visit our
referrals. For more resources on crime victim services and organizations and crime victim information, visit our resources.

Is a terrorist attack in a foreign country a crime under United States laws?
Terrorist attacks in foreign countries that include United States citizen victims are Federal crimes in the United States. The attack is usually also a crime in the country where the attack occurs.

Will the FBI investigate the crime?
Law enforcement agencies in the country where the attack occurs have sole jurisdiction to investigate crimes within their borders. The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) may open an investigation into the matter. The FBI must obtain approval from the foreign government before conducting any investigative activities in that country and the FBI usually works with the local law enforcement for that country. Foreign law enforcement’s ability to investigate crimes can vary greatly based on many factors, including capability, training, resources, and degree of control over the geographical location where the crime occurred.

Will the crime be prosecuted and if so, where?
If law enforcement is able to collect sufficient evidence to bring charges and apprehend the perpetrators, the crime may be prosecuted in court.

Foreign prosecution:
Many times the government of the country where an attack occurs will pursue justice in its own criminal justice system for all of the victims, including U.S. citizen victims. The FBI and United States prosecutors may offer to provide assistance to the foreign government which may or may not accept the offer. Charges and proceedings in the foreign country may be very different from those in the United States. In some countries, the punishment for terrorism crimes may be substantially less than in the United States, while other countries may have comparable penalties, including the death penalty. In some cases, foreign governments have released convicted terrorists before serving their full sentences.

Prosecution in the United States:
Early on in the FBI investigation, United States prosecutors will be assigned to work with the FBI. Prosecutors from a United States Attorney’s Office and the Counterterrorism Section in the Department of Justice’s National Security Division will work closely together to evaluate the case for prosecution in the United States. Generally, the following steps are necessary for a prosecution in the United States:

(1) Evidence Collection: Sufficient admissible evidence must be obtained, including from foreign authorities;
(2) Charges: A grand jury must charge the perpetrators in an indictment or the prosecutor must charge the perpetrators through an information or complaint;
(3) Arrest: The persons charged must be arrested either in the United States or overseas;
(4) Extradition (or other lawful removal and return of the suspect): If a charged person is in the custody of a foreign government, the foreign government must agree to transfer the person to the United States to stand trial.

Why is the U.S. investigation and/or prosecution taking so long?
This process can take many years. Sometimes charges are filed in the United States, but are not made public. One purpose for nonpublic charges is to make it easier to capture the perpetrators. Although the FBI and prosecutors are generally legally required to provide victims with information about the status of a United States investigation, government staff will not always be able to share particular details about the case because it could interfere with the investigation, would violate a court order, or would otherwise be inappropriate. The United States may not be able to prosecute a case that occurs in a foreign country, even when a foreign nation cooperates with the FBI. Some of the reasons may include:

  • The evidence collected in a foreign country may not be admissible in U.S. courts;
  • The U.S. does not possess sufficient admissible evidence to prove guilt of a perpetrator beyond a reasonable doubt;
  • A foreign country’s prosecution may take precedence;
  • The host country may decide to imprison the perpetrator;
  • The host country may not agree to extradite the perpetrator to the U.S or there may be legal or other obstacles to extradition;
  • The perpetrator cannot be found or apprehended; and
  • There may be concerns about compromising the investigation if an arrest is made while the case is still being investigated;

Roles in Civil Legal Systems

Most countries use the civil law system, but the United States uses the common law system. Because of this difference in systems, it can be confusing for U.S. victims of overseas terrorism to understand their role in the civil law system. Visit the Roles in Civil Legal Systems page for more information about each job in the civil law system.

Learn More About Roles in Civil Legal Systems

Additional Resources

Visit the U.S. Victims of Terrorism Abroad Task Force for more information on how the U.S. government agencies work together to assist U.S. victims of overseas terrorism in the immediate aftermath of an attack and over the long term.

For more resources on crime victim services and organizations and crime victim information, visit our resources section.

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