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Boim v. Quranic Literacy Institute

June 05, 2002


Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 00 C 2905--George W. Lindberg, Judge.

Before Rovner, Diane P. Wood, and Evans, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rovner, Circuit Judge.


In this case of first impression, the parents of a young United States citizen murdered in Israel by Hamas terrorists have sued several individuals and organizations for the loss of their son. Two of the organizational defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, and the district court denied the motion. In this interlocutory appeal, we are asked to consider the viability of a claim brought under the never-tested 18 U.S.C. sec. 2333, which allows U.S. nationals who have been injured "by reason of an act of international terrorism" to sue therefor and recover treble damages. We affirm the district court's denial of the defendants' motion to dismiss.


We derive the facts from the allegations of the complaint. At this stage of the proceedings, we must accept these allegations as true, extending to the plaintiffs the benefit of every reasonable inference that may be drawn from the complaint. Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence and Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993); Slaney v. The International Amateur Athletic Federation, 244 F.3d 580, 597 (7th Cir. 2001), cert. denied, 122 S. Ct. 69 (2001); Camp v. Gregory, 67 F.3d 1286, 1290 (7th Cir. 1995), cert. denied, 517 U.S. 1244 (1996). We may affirm the dismissal of that complaint only if it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiffs can prove no set of facts in support of their claim that would entitle them to relief. Slaney, 244 F.3d at 597.

David Boim was the son of Joyce and Stanley Boim, who are United States citizens. David held dual citizenship in the United States and Israel. In 1996, the Boims were living in Israel, where seventeen-year-old David was studying at a yeshiva. On May 13, 1996, David was murdered as he waited with other students at a bus stop near Beit El in the West Bank. He was struck by bullets fired from a passing car, and was pronounced dead within an hour of the shooting. His two attackers were later identified as Amjad Hinawi and Khalil Tawfiq Al-Sharif. The Palestinian Authority apprehended Hinawi and Al-Sharif, and temporarily imprisoned them in early 1997. They were released shortly thereafter, apparently pending trial. Al-Sharif subsequently killed himself and five civilians and injured 192 other people in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem on September 4, 1997. Two other suicide bombers joined him in this action. Hinawi, who confessed to participating in the shooting of David Boim, was eventually tried for David's murder by a Palestinian Authority court and was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment on February 17, 1998.

Both Hinawi and Al-Sharif were known members of the military wing of Hamas. The Boims describe Hamas as an extremist, Palestinian militant organization that seeks to establish a fundamentalist Palestinian state. The group is divided into two branches, one political and one military. The military branch receives orders and material support from the political branch. Hamas seeks to advance its political objectives through acts of terrorism and works to undermine the Middle East peace process through violent attacks on civilians. Hamas has a global presence, and terrorist operatives in Gaza and the West Bank receive their instructions, funds, weapons and practical support for their missions from Hamas organizers throughout the world. The Boims believe that Hamas has command and control centers in the United States, Britain and several Western European countries. The leaders of these control centers coordinate fund-raising efforts from sympathetic parties in these various countries and then launder and channel the money to Hamas operatives in Gaza and the West Bank. They also arrange for the purchase of weapons and for the recruitment and training of military personnel. They work with local commanders in the West Bank and Gaza to plan terrorist attacks. Hamas was designated a terrorist organization by President William Jefferson Clinton in 1995 by Executive Order.*fn1 In 1997, Hamas was desig-nated a foreign terrorist organization pursuant to 8 U.S.C. sec. 1189.*fn2

The Boims allege that Hamas' military wing depends on foreign contributions, with approximately one-third of its multi-million dollar annual budget coming from fund-raising in North America and Western Europe. The Boims believe that the Quranic Literacy Institute ("QLI") and the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development ("HLF"), along with other defendants not involved in this appeal, are the main fronts for Hamas in the United States. They allege that these organizations' allegedly humanitarian functions mask their core mission of raising and funneling money and other resources to Hamas operatives in support of terrorist activities.

QLI is an Illinois not-for-profit corporation that purports to translate and publish sacred Islamic texts, but the Boims believe it is also engaged in raising and laundering money for Hamas. QLI also employed another defendant, Mohammed Abdul Hamid Khalil Salah, nominally as a computer analyst. The FBI has seized $1.4 million in cash and prop erty from Salah, who is the admitted United States based leader of the military branch of Hamas. He has been prosecuted for channeling money to Hamas and for recruiting, organizing and training terrorist operatives in Israel. Salah is named on a list of Specially Designated Terrorists compiled by the United States Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control.*fn3

HLF is also a not-for-profit corporation, whose ostensible mission is to fund humanitarian relief and development efforts. HLF's director has acknowledged providing money to Hamas, and the Boims allege that, although HLF purports to have a charitable purpose, its true function is to raise and channel money to Hamas for terrorist activities. The U.S. base of HLF's operations is in Texas. HLF also has offices in Jerusalem and in Illinois. HLF, QLI and the other organizational defendants are linked by interlocking directorates and by ties to Salah and Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook, another individual defendant (not involved in this appeal) who has a leadership role in the military branch of Hamas.*fn4

According to the Boims, money flows from American contributors to Hamas in a three-step process: first, the front organizations solicit contributions; second, the leaders arrange for the money to be laundered and wired overseas; and third, Hamas operatives in Gaza and the West Bank use the money to finance terrorist activities. Because it is illegal to provide financial support to recognized terrorist groups, the money flows through a series of complicated transactions, changing hands a number of times, and being commingled with funds from the front organizations' legitimate charitable and business dealings. The funds are laundered in a variety of ways, including through real estate deals and through Swiss bank accounts. The Boims allege that money raised by HLF and QLI was transferred to Hamas terrorists using these various methods in order to finance terrorist activities. Hamas used the money raised in this way to purchase weapons to carry out terrorist attacks, including the attack on David Boim. Hamas regularly drew money from a pool of laundered funds in order to finance training, weapons purchases, lodging, false identification, communications equipment, lethal substances, explosives, personnel, transportation and other material support for terrorist operations. The Boims believe that expenditures from this pool of funds paid for the vehicle, machine guns and ammunition used to kill David Boim, and also paid for the training of Hinawi, Al-Sharif and other Hamas operatives involved in the attack on David Boim. The funds were also used to provide a stipend for Al-Sharif's family, as it is a common practice to pay the families of suicide bombers in order to encourage others to volunteer for these activities.

The Boims bring their suit against HLF, QLI and other organizational and individual defendants pursuant to 18 U.S.C. sec. 2333. They charge that all of the defendants are civilly liable for David's murder. They name Hinawi and Al-Sharif as the persons who actually killed David, but allege that the other defendants aided, abetted and financed Hinawi and Al-Sharif. They assert that the organizational defendants provided material support or resources to Hamas as those terms are defined in 18 U.S.C. secs. 2339A and 2339B. The Boims seek compensation for the extreme physical pain David suffered before his death, and for the cost of his funeral and the loss of accretion to his estate due to his death at age seventeen. They also seek damages for their own extreme mental anguish and loss of the society of their son. They ask for $100,000,000 compensatory damages, $100,000,000 punitive damages, plus costs and attorney's fees, and request the trebling of damages pursuant to the statute.

In the district court, QLI and HLF moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. In particular, the defendants argued that section 2333 does not support a cause of action for aiding and abetting acts of international terrorism, and that the suit is foreclosed by the Supreme Court's ruling in Central Bank of Denver, N.A. v. First Interstate Bank of Denver, N.A., 511 U.S. 164, 114 S. Ct. 1439 (1994). Because the defendants believed that aiding and abetting was the sole basis for the Boims' cause of action, they maintained that the complaint should be dismissed. The Boims argued to the district court that their section 2333 complaint could be sustained under any one of three different theories of liability. First, they maintained that providing material support to a terrorist organization was itself an act of international terrorism as defined in section 2331. Second, they argued that the defendants could be held civilly liable under section 2333 because they violated sections 2339A and 2339B, the criminal statutes prohibiting the provision of material support to terrorists.*fn5 Third, they contended that the defendants could be held liable under section 2333 on an aiding and abetting theory, and that the Supreme Court's holding in Central Bank, which addressed civil liability for aiding and abetting in the context of securities fraud claims, was distinguishable.

The district court denied the motion to dismiss. Boim v. Quranic Literacy Institute, 127 F. Supp. 2d 1002, 1021 (N.D. Ill. 2001). Addressing the Boims' first theory, the court found that funding, without more, does not "involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life." The court began with the statutory language, which sweepingly defines acts of international terrorism to include "activities involving violent acts or acts dangerous to human life," and found that this phrase was so broad that it provided little guidance concerning where to draw limits on the conduct Congress sought to curb. 127 F. Supp. 2d at 1013-14. Instead, "[c]ontributions to a foreign organization . . . without a further allegation of participation by the contributor, appear too far removed to constitute direct acts of international terrorism." Id. The district court concluded that Congress meant to reach beyond the persons directly involved in the violent act, but that liability should be limited to persons or organizations that knew about the violent act and participated in the preparation of the plan to commit the violent act. 127 F. Supp. 2d at 1014-15. Thus, as a matter of statutory interpretation, the Boims' allegations of funding terrorist organizations, without more direct dealing with the group, did not constitute activity involving violent acts or acts dangerous to human life. 127 F. Supp. 2d at 1015. Relying on a Fourth Circuit case, the court noted that where funding a terrorist group was the main allegation, the plaintiffs must also be able to show that the defendants providing the funds knew about the violent act and participated in the preparation of the plan to commit the violent act. See United States v. Wells, 163 F.3d 889 (4th Cir. 1998), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 841 (1999). Because Salah was alleged to have participated in recruiting and training terrorists as well as channeling money to Hamas for terrorist activities, the court found that the claim against him could stand. 127 F. Supp. 2d at 1015. The court found the allegations of funding alone against the organizational defendants inadequate on a straight reading of the statute because, although the Boims alleged that HLF and QLI knew about Hamas' plans for terrorist activities, they did not allege that these groups participated in the preparation of the planning for the violent acts. Id.

The court then considered whether the action could be sustained under the Boims' second theory, that violations of 18 U.S.C. secs. 2339A and 2339B sufficed to create civil liability under section 2333. Sections 2339A and 2339B created criminal liability for persons providing material support to terrorists. The court agreed that conduct prohibited by sections 2339A and 2339B constituted "international terrorism" as that term was defined in section 2333. 127 F. Supp. 2d at 1016. The court noted that sections 2339A and 2339B require that support provided to terrorists be both knowing and material, but that civil liability for violations of sections 2339A or 2339B was limited to the period of time after sections 2339A and 2339B became law (1994 for section 2339A and 1996 for section 2339B). 127 F. Supp. 2d at 1016-17.

The court also addressed the Boims' closely related theory that Congress clarified the meaning of "acts of international terrorism" when it passed sections 2339A and 2339B. According to the district court, these criminal provisions demonstrated Congress' intent to include the provision of material support to terrorists in its definition of conduct involving violent acts under section 2331. If Congress imposed criminal liability for the provision of material support to terrorists, the district court reasoned, it surely meant for civil liability to reach at least that far. The court found further support for the proposition that Congress viewed the provision of material support to terrorists as an act of international terrorism in the repeal of jurisdictional immunity of a foreign state that has been designated a state sponsor of terrorism when the state is sued for personal injury or death caused by the state's provision of material support or resources to terrorists as defined in section 2339A. See 28 U.S.C. sec. 1605(a)(7). "Considering Congress has permitted foreign states that have been designated state-sponsors of terrorism to be sued in United States courts for violating sec. 2339A, it is hard to argue that Congress did not intend to include such violations in its definition of 'terrorism' under the statutory scheme." 127 F. Supp. 2d at 1016.

Because section 2339A was enacted in 1994 and section 2339B was enacted in 1996, the court found that the plaintiffs would have to rely on their third theory of liability, aiding and abetting in order to reach conduct that occurred before 1994. 127 F. Supp. 2d at 1017. The court rejected the defendants' contention that the Supreme Court generally precluded aiding and abetting liability in federal civil causes of action in the Central Bank decision. Id. Rather, the district court found that aiding and abetting liability was available when a statute provided for it. Section 2333 relies on section 2331(1) for its definition of "international terrorism," and the court found that any action that falls under the definition of section 2331(1) may be the basis for a civil action under section 2333. Noting that aiding and abetting an act of international terrorism is itself a criminal violation, the court concluded that aiding and abetting terrorism is an activity that involves violent acts or acts dangerous to human life. The court sustained the Boims' cause of action on the theory that they had sufficiently alleged that the defendants aided and abetted international terrorism. 127 F. Supp. 2d at 1017-18. The court relied on the liberal standards of pleading under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 to find that the Boims had alleged their claim sufficiently, reasoning that the complaint provided the defendants with adequate notice of the charges against them. 127 F. Supp. 2d at 1018.

The district court also rejected the defendants' claim that the Boims had inadequately alleged causation. HLF and QLI argued that the Boims had shown no connection between the defendants' provision of money to Hamas and the murder of David Boim. The defendants characterized the Boims' complaint as alleging funding only through 1993, and maintained the funding was too remote in time to have proximately caused David's murder in 1996. The court first noted that the Boims alleged the defendants' funding extended beyond 1993, contrary to the defendants' characterization. The court also found that Congress indicated by its passage of sections 2339A and 2339B its belief that funding terrorism causes the harm of the terrorists' subse quent actions. 127 F. Supp. 2d at 1019. According to the court, sections 2339A and 2339B required that the aid to the terrorists be "material," a term that provides the causal link between the provision of funds and the injury from the terrorist action. The court found the complaint sufficient and stated that the plaintiffs would have to prove the funding at issue here was material to David Boim's murder. 127 F. Supp. 2d at 1019-20.

Finally, the court rejected the defendants' First Amendment challenge, finding that the complaint was not seeking to impose liability for mere political association or belief but rather for knowing and intentional support of the illegal aims of the defendant organizations. 127 F. Supp. 2d at 1020-21. Because the Boims are required to prove that HLF and QLI intended to further Hamas' illegal activities, either by aiding and abetting the terrorist action or by violating sections 2339A or 2339B, the district court found that the claim survived First Amendment scrutiny. Id. HLF and QLI appeal.


The district court granted HLF and QLI's motion for a certificate of appealability, and we subsequently granted them leave to file an interlocutory appeal. See 28 U.S.C. sec. 1292(b). Interlocutory appeal is appropriate when (1) the appeal presents a question of law; (2) it is controlling; (3) it is contestable; (4) its resolution will expedite the resolution of the litigation, and (5) the petition to appeal is filed in the district court within a reasonable amount of time after entry of the order sought to be appealed. Ahrenholz v. Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, 219 F.3d 674, 675 (7th Cir. 2000). We have interpreted "question of law" to refer to a question regarding the meaning of a statutory or constitutional provision, regulation or common law doctrine. Id., 219 F.3d at 676. In this case, the district court correctly certified three issues for appeal:

(1) Does funding, simpliciter, of an international terrorist organization constitute an act of terrorism under 18 U.S.C. sec. 2331?

(2) Does 18 U.S.C. sec. 2333 incorporate the definitions of international terrorism found in 18 U.S.C. secs. 2339A and 2339B?

(3) Does a civil cause of action lie under 18 U.S.C. secs. 2331 and 2333 for aiding and abetting international terrorism? See Boim v. Quranic Literacy Institute, et al., Case No. 00 C 2905, Order (N.D. Ill. February 22, 2001).

The interpretation of sections 2331 and 2333 presents questions of law which will control the outcome of this case. As these are questions of first impression, the application of these statutes to the facts alleged here is certainly contestable, and the resolution of these issues will facilitate the conclusion of the litigation. The defendants filed their motions for certificates of appealability in the district court within a reasonable amount of time after entry of the district court's order denying their motion to dismiss (the district court's order was docketed January 10, 2001, QLI filed its motion on February 14, 2001 and HLF filed its motion on February 15, 2001). A panel of this Court granted the defendants' subsequent petitions for interlocutory appeal on April 6, 2001, and we now consider the issues certified by the district court.

We review de novo a district court's ruling on a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted. Slaney, 244 F.3d at 597. At this stage of the proceedings, we accept all factual allegations in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences from those facts in favor of the Boims, the plaintiffs here. Id. We examine the complaint as a whole, and we will allow the case to proceed unless it appears beyond doubt that the Boims can prove no set of facts in support of their claim which would entitle them to relief. Id.; Pokuta v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 191 F.3d 834, 839 (7th Cir. 1999). Federal Rule 8(a)(2) requires only that a complaint include a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2); Leatherman, 507 U.S. at 168. The Boims thus need not set out in detail all of the facts upon which they base their claim. Rule 8(a) requires only that the complaint give the defendants fair notice of what their claim is and the grounds upon which it rests. Leatherman, 507 U.S. at 168. With these standards in mind, we turn to the statutes at issue here.

The Boims seek to recover against HLF and QLI pursuant to 18 U.S.C. sec. 2333, which provides, in relevant part:

Any national of the United States injured in his or her person, property, or business by reason of an act of international terrorism, or his or her estate, survivors, or heirs, may sue therefor in any appropriate district court of the United States and shall recover threefold the damages he or she ...

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