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What Is the Crime of Providing 'Material Support' to Terrorists?

When a terrorist act occurs, authorities look to punish the perpetrators. But they also investigate known associations and try to tie the act to people involved in planning: those who provided material support.

In the case of the recent San Bernardino, California shootings, for example, federal agents charged Enrique Marquez, 24, according to a statement from the Department of Justice, reported on CNN. Marquez bought the two rifles eventually used in the shooting, apparently in preparation for different terror attacks that never happened. But he is still facing life in prison for his involvement, however passive, in the San Bernardino tragedy that took place earlier this month.

What Is Material Support?

According to federal law, "whoever knowingly provides material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization, or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 15 years, or both." When a death occurs as a result of the support, an unlimited term of incarceration, up to and including life in prison, is available.

To qualify as having provided material support, the person must know the organization is a designated terrorist organization or that the organization has engaged or engages in terrorism as defined by statute. So, even if the person is not necessarily aware of their involvement in an act, the fact of having knowingly associated with a terror organization is sufficient for guilt.

Material support for terror is a crime for institutions as well as people. Financial institutions are subject to serious fines -- $50,000 per violation or double the amount involved in the transaction -- for possessing or controlling funds from a terrorist organization.

Cooperating With the Feds

After the San Bernardino shootings, Enriqe Marquez, in Pennsylvania, reportedly called 911, and explained to operators that his once-close friend Syed Farook was behind the California attack, using guns Marquez gave him for storage. Marquez has cooperated with investigators and provided information, officials said. He also checked himself into a mental health facility.

His cooperation will probably go a long way to helping Marquez resolve the charges he faces. He says that he ultimately never went through with attacks with Farook and stopped regular contact in 2012 after getting spooked when he heard people get charged for the very crime he is accused of now, providing material support to terrorism.

Defense Attorney Necessary

If you or anyone you know is charged with a crime, whether at the state or federal level, speak to a criminal defense attorney immediately. Get help.

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