An Australian was charged by U.S. prosecutors with radicalizing an American citizen resident in Australia, who was later arrested for attempting to join the Islamic State.
Yet the defendant, Mohamed Zuhbi, is not an American citizen and has never set foot on U.S. soil.
The case is being decided in Texas, where it has raised issues of constitutional jurisdiction.
Judge Lynn Hughes, presiding over the case, ordered the prosecution to prove jurisdiction, stating “The United States of America must explain how the constitution gives the court jurisdiction over Mohamed Zuhbi.”
Prosecutors argued that because Zuhbi’s action constituted “criminal activity that harmed the interests of the United States and threatened its security" the court has jurisdiction.
They argued "the fact that Zuhbi was located outside the United States throughout the conspiracy is immaterial because the statutory requirement is satisfied so long as one conspirator was within United States jurisdiction.”
Zuhbi is believed to be living somewhere along the border between Turkey and Syria.
Asher Khan, the man he radicalized, was arrested in Houston last year and was charged with attempting to join ISIS.
A friend of Khan’s, Sixto Garcia, flew to Turkey to meet with Khan and Zuhbi and was later killed while fighting for the Islamic State.
The case raises important legal considerations about jurisdiction that will be relevant in future cases and have ramifications beyond tackling Islamist terrorism.
The United States has used drone strikes to execute its own citizens without trial, such as in the case of the al-Qaeda ideologue Anwar al-Awlaki. They also killed Mohammed Emwazi, a British citizen acting as the Islamic State executioner “Jihadi John.”
In terms of arrests, there is also precedent for the U.S. arresting foreign nationals for crimes perpetrated against Americans. In 1985 the U.S. government hired agents to kidnap a Mexican citizen for alleged involvement in the murder of a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent on behalf of a drug cartel.
The Supreme Court ruled that despite the kidnapping the United States was within its rights to try the man for the murder in the United States.
It seems likely the United States will continue to act robustly to protect its interests and citizens around the world unencumbered by constitutional hang-ups as to the limits of its jurisdiction
To learn more about the Islamic State please see Clarion Project's Special Report: The Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL)