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.

First In, Last Out - Resources for First Responders

The U.S. DOJ’s Office of Justice for Victims of Overseas Terrorism created this page for all of the first responders who help the victims and survivors of terrorism and other crimes.  We acknowledge your sacrifices, respect your challenges, and are grateful for all the work that you do.   We hope this page is useful to you and helps you through what may be difficult times.



First responders are often the overlooked survivors of terrorist attacks and mass casualty events.  In the course of their duties, police officers, fire fighters, paramedics, medical personnel and victims' assistance providers are exposed to traumatic crime scenes and difficult stories from victims and survivors.  This exposure may lead to “vicarious trauma”.

According to DOJ’s Office for Victims of Crime, “Vicarious trauma is an occupational challenge for people working and volunteering in the fields of victim services, law enforcement, emergency medical services, fire services, and other allied professions, due to their continuous exposure to victims of trauma and violence. Exposure to the trauma of others has been shown to change the world-view of these responders and can put people and organizations at risk for a range of negative consequences.” (The Vicarious Trauma Toolkit, Glossary of Terms, see below)

These experiences can vary and can affect people very differently - and this response can evolve over time.  Below are a few resources for first responders or their loved ones that might be helpful as they address possible issues of vicarious trauma.  Some of these resources may be useful to you, but some may not be.  This is not a comprehensive list, but may help guide efforts to find information.  All of these resources are from other U.S. Government agencies or offices, and a short abbreviation glossary is below:

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC);

Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA);

Health and Human Services (HHS);

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH);

The National Institutes of Health (NIH);

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH);

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH);

Office for Victims of Crime (OVC);

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA);

U.S. Fire Administration (USFA);

The U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA).

If you feel you need further assistance, please reach out to a qualified counselor or psychologist, or your organization’s human resources for referrals. 



The Vicarious Trauma Toolkit - DOJ’s OVC – OVC’s toolkit makes a major contribution to the field by providing the Vicarious Trauma–Organizational Readiness Guide (VT–ORG) to help guide organizations' efforts to become more vicarious trauma-informed.


Responder Safety and Health – HHS – A collection of various resources and trainings directed at assisting first responders, including:

Tips for Retaining and Caring for Staff after a Disaster;

Tips for Disaster Responders: Preventing and Managing Stress; and

Individual Resilience: Factsheet for Responders


SAMHSA's Disaster Kit, – SAMHSA/HHS, a comprehensive resource which includes:

A Guide to Managing Stress in Crisis Response Professions;

Tips for Health Care Practitioners and Responders; Helping Survivors Cope with Grief After a Disaster or Traumatic Event;

Tips for Disaster Responders - Understanding Compassion Fatigue; and

Tips for Managing and Preventing Stress - A Guide for Emergency Response and Public Safety Workers. (Many resources also in Spanish.)


Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program (CCP) Toolkit - SAMHSA/HHS - The Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program (CCP) helps individuals and communities recover from natural and human-caused disasters through community outreach and access to mental health services. This toolkit includes numerous resources, including the First Responders and Disaster Responders Resource Portal. This website includes online trainings, webcasts, tip sheets, and other online disaster behavioral health trainings.


Tip sheets, Brochures, and Publications:

Traumatic Incident Stress - NIOSH/CDC – A short but comprehensive list of physical, emotional, cognitive and behavioral symptoms and recommendations for actions on-site and after the event.  A summary is at Traumatic Incident Stress - Information for Emergency Response Workers (Fact Sheet).


Coping with Traumatic Events - NIMH/NIH/HHS – General information for anyone who has suffered a traumatic event, including how children may respond.


Self-Care for Disaster Behavioral Health Responders - SAMHSA/HHS – A visual presentation about the stressors facing first responders and best practices to address them.


Psychological First Aid for First Responders – SAMHSA/HHS – A quick reference pamphlet about how to communicate with traumatized people during or just after a traumatic event, including how to deescalate with an agitated person.


Tips for Disaster Responders - Identifying Substance Misuse in the Responder Community – SAMHSA/HHS - A tip sheet to provide information on the warning signs of misusing alcohol, prescription medication, or other substances, and includes treatment resource information.


Resources for Health Care Providers – NCCIH/NIH/HHS – Complementary health approaches for health care providers to utilize personally or in their practices.


Tips for Supervisors of Disaster Responders - Helping Staff Manage Stress When Returning to Work – SAMHSA/HHS - This tip sheet can help supervisors ease the transition for disaster responders returning to work, recognize and reduce potential difficulties in the workplace, and enhance positive consequences for all of their staff.


Disaster Technical Assistance Center Supplemental Research Bulletin - First Responders: Behavioral Health Concerns, Emergency Response, and Trauma - SAMHSA/HHS - The purpose of this publication is to discuss the challenges encountered by first responders during regular duty as well as following disasters; shed more light on the risks and behavioral health consequences (such as PTSD, stress, and depression) of serving as a first responder; and present steps that can be taken to reduce these risks either on the individual or institutional levels.


Preventing suicide among first responders – USFA/FEMA – An infogram with links to various firefighter and law enforcement organizations to address suicide prevention.


Online Trainings and Videos:

Online Disaster Behavioral Health Trainings – SAMHSA/HHS – The trainings  cover a range of topics, including crisis intervention, Psychological First Aid, preparedness and response, resilience-building, and psychological responses to disasters. The trainings listed are free to the public; however, they may require you to register with a training website in order to take them. Some of the trainings also offer continuing education unit credits.


Online DTAC Training Courses – SAMHSA/HHS – The following free online trainings are designed to help participants improve their awareness and understanding of the behavioral health effects of disasters and disaster and emergency response. Includes Shield of Resilience, a 1-hour, online course provides law enforcement officers with a foundational skill set to better understand and address the behavioral health stressors that are unique to law enforcement and Service to Self, a 1-hour online course is specifically for fire and emergency medical services personnel which addresses occupational stressors; mental health and substance use issues including depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, suicidality, and alcohol use; individual and organizational resilience; and healthy coping mechanisms including demonstrations of stress management techniques.


Stress Management Techniques, Healthy Coping Strategies, Breathing Exercise - Video – SAMHSA/HHS – A YouTube video meant to help staff understand the personal impact of working with disaster survivors. It also covers the importance of practicing self-care and demonstrates a breathing exercise that may help staff reduce stress.


Provider Strategies for Coping with Burnout and Secondary Traumatic Stress – VA – The VA has numerous resources through their National Center for PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder) to address the needs of first responders. This one-hour interactive course is designed to provide brief education and dynamic intervention strategies to help address provider burnout and STS. Highlights include informational provider vignettes, interactive features, and instruction on physical, cognitive, and meaning-based coping strategies. All are designed to improve personal health and resilience. Continuing education credits are offered for this free course.

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

Finding Your Voice, Finding Your Way - A Resource Guide for U.S. Victims of Overseas Terrorism

Welcome to our resource guide, developed to help you organize important paperwork and information.  You may want to print these documents and put them in a binder or folder so you can review them at any time.   

Organizing all of the information you receive may help you to feel more in control of your circumstances, reducing stress and confusion over the long run.  Being organized can also help you prepare for meetings with government officials, law enforcement, medical or psychological professionals, or victims’ assistance service providers.  In addition, maintaining a system for your records can be important for financial purposes like tax preparation and state and federal crime victim compensation and reimbursement program applications.  A note sheet (see also below) may be especially helpful for keeping track of your questions and notes from meetings and calls.

As you prepare to talk to government officials or service professionals on the phone or in person, we recommend the following:

  1. Schedule calls and meetings when you feel ready to receive information, on days that are not already busy or stressful, and when you can limit any distractions.  This will allow you to truly focus on the conversation;
  2. Have a pen and paper ready to take notes;
  3. Ask for the name and contact information of the person you meet or are talking to on the phone, or ask for a business card if in person;
  4. Write down your questions in advance.  During a conversation, you may be overwhelmed and forget some things you really want to ask;
  5. Keep business cards organized in an organizer or simple holder, like an envelope.  You may want to write down the date and time that you talked to that person on the back of the card;
  6. Keep a file folder with all of the documents you receive, including letters.  Create a special email folder if you are communicating by email.  You may want to review them in the future, even if they do not seem as important now.  Organizing them as they arrive will make this easier;
  7. Ask a family member, friend, religious leader/advisor, or psychological professional to review your questions, or be present for a call or meeting.  A support person can not only provide emotional support, they may also help by reminding you of questions or concerns you have voiced;
  8. Ask for resources to address other needs related to the terrorist attack, like emotional health support for you or a loved one;
  9. Whomever you are speaking to may not have all of the answers to your questions.  Be prepared to have a follow up conversation or email exchange to allow them time to try to find out more;
  10. When making a phone call, be honest with officials about who is listening.  You can also ask who is on the phone with the person you are calling.  It is important to build trust on both sides.
If you do not have the ability or capability to print these materials, please contact us and we can send a hard copy to you.  Please contact us at or (202) 233-0701, toll free at (877) 738-0153.​

Finding Your Voice, Finding Your Way -

A Resource Guide for U.S. Victims of Overseas Terrorism

Finding Your Voice, Finding Your Way Cover Sheet
DOJ OVT Information for US Victims of Overseas Terrorism
DOJ OVT Factsheet
International Legal Systems Brochure
USG Response to Terrorist Attack Chart
FBI Victim Assistance Program
ITVERP FactSheet
OVC Handbook for Coping After Terrorism
FBI VSD Coping After Terrorism for Injured Survivors
FBI VSD Coping after Terrorism for Survivors
SAMHSA Tips for Survivors of a Disaster or Other Traumatic Event: Managing Stress
SAMHSA Tips for Survivors of a Disaster or Other Traumatic Event: What to Expect In Your Personal, Family, Work and Financial Life
SAMHSA Tips for Survivors Coping with Grief After a Disaster or Other Traumatic Event: Coping with Retraumatization
SAMHSA Tips for Survivors: Coping with Grief After a Disaster or Other Traumatic Event
FBI Tips for Dealing With The Media
Notetaking Form for Calls or Meetings

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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