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United States v. Yousef


    Citation. United States v. Yousef, 327 F.3d 56, 2003 U.S. App. LEXIS 6437, 61 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. (Callaghan) 251 (2d Cir. N.Y. Apr. 4, 2003)

    Brief Fact Summary. The judgments of conviction entered in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on charges relating to a conspiracy to bomb twelve U.S. commercial airliners in Southeast Asia was appealed by Ramzi Yousef (D), Wali Khan Amin Shah (D) and Abdul Hakim Murad (D).

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Where crimes (1) are universally condemned by the community of nations and (2) by their nature occur either outside of a state or where there is no state capable of punishing or competent to punish the crime, then universal jurisdiction arises under customary international law.

    Facts. Ramzi Yousef (D) entered Manila under an assumed name in order to execute a plan to attack U.S. airliners. The plan was to place bombs on twelve U.S. aircraft with routes in Southeast Asia by five individuals. The conspirators would board the plane, assemble the bomb while in flight and then exit the plan during its first layover. Before the heinous operation, their plan was detected when Yousef (D) and Murad (D) accidentally started a fire while burning chemicals in their Manila apartment. The fire department involved the police department who discovered the bomb components, laptop with notes on the plan and other evidence. Murad (D) and Shah (D) were arrested by the Philippine authorities but Shah (D) escaped and evaded captured the following month. Yousef (D), Murad (D) and Shah (D) were charged with various crimes related to their conspiracy to bomb the planes through a multi-count indictment. A jury found all three guilty on all counts. The district court held that the principle of universal jurisdiction was applicable because Yousef’s conduct qualified as a “terrorist” act.

    Issue. Where crimes (1) are universally condemned by the community of nations and (2) by their nature occur either outside of a state or where there is no state capable of punishing or competent to punish the crime, does universal jurisdiction arise under customary international law?

    Held. Yes. Where crimes (1) are universally condemned by the community of nations and (2) by their nature occur either outside of a state or where there is no state capable of punishing or competent to punish the crime, then universal jurisdiction arises under customary international law. Historically, universal jurisdiction is restricted to piracy, war crimes and crimes against humanity and unlike those offenses, “terrorism” does not have a precise definition and has not achieved universal condemnation.

    Discussion. State-sponsored terrorism is one of the biggest impediments to defining “terrorism” or acts of state employed to effect coercion. The terrorism that is commonly understood in the United States is not similarly defined in many parts of the world. The courts will be hesitant to impose a definition in situation where the acts of terrorism are a case focus, whether one involving universal jurisdiction or another issue.


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