FACT CHECK: Are Terrorists Trying to Cross the U.S. Border Illegally?

While discussing the crisis on the U.S. border, President Donald Trump has said that the U.S. Border Patrol has intercepted “some real bad” migrants from the Middle East, suggesting that Islamic terrorists had tried to illegally enter the country at the U.S./Mexico border.

Critics have scoffed at the idea, dismissing it as rhetoric without substance. However, a review of public records by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) has found the President’s claim to credible. The number of Islamic radicals apprehended at the border is likely in the hundreds.

CIS has found that since 2001, at least 15 migrants with “credibly suspected or confirmed terrorism ties” were found illegally entering the country or confronted before they could reach the southern border. Those are the migrants whose backgrounds have been made public: it does not include those whose apprehensions (for national security reasons) may not have been a part of a public record.

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In addition, CIS identified more than 100 other suspicious migrants from Middle Eastern countries with possible ties to radical terrorist groups.

A CIS report on the situation came to the following conclusions:

  • From only public realm reporting, 15 suspected terrorists have been apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border, or en route, since 2001.
  • The 15 terrorism-associated migrants who traveled to the U.S. southern border likely represent a significant under-count since most information reflecting such border-crossers resides in classified or protected government archives and intelligence databases.
  • Affiliations included al-Shabbab, al-Ittihad al-Islamiya, Hezbollah, the Pakistani Taliban, ISIS, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh, and the Tamil Tigers.
  • At least five of the 15 were prosecuted for crimes in North American courts. One is currently under Canadian prosecution for multiple attempted murder counts. Of the four in the United States, one was prosecuted for lying to the FBI about terrorism involvement, one for asylum fraud, one for providing material support to a terrorist organization, and one for illegal entry, false statements, and passport mutilation.

The report notes that government records on border apprehensions are not public, and the information and instances it mentions are gleaned from media reports and court documents. However, it does note that the problem of possible infiltration by radical jihadists may be larger than we know.

From intelligence community sources with access to protected government information, the Center for Immigration Studies has learned that at least 100 migrants from “countries of interest”,3 encountered between 2012 and 2017 at or en route to the southern border, matched the U.S. terrorism “watch lists” known as the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE), or the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB). The number of such law enforcement land border encounters with such watch-listed migrants has risen drastically each year after 2012, according to the information, which is deemed credible but could not be independently corroborated.

As many as 50 TIDE- or TSDB-listed migrants were first encountered at the southern U.S. border during 2012-2017, while unspecified numbers of others were first encountered by a cooperating government along known routes leading to the U.S. border.

These numbers, of course, do not measure radicals who escaped apprehension.

Among the known Islamic radicals/terror sympathizers who crossed (or attempted to cross) our southern border illegally are these examples:

Abdulahi Sharif (Somalia). After being detained crossing the border in California in 2011, Sharif was released on bond and fled to Canada, where he was given refugee status. He went on to stab a police officer and injured four others in a car-ramming terror attack in Alberta in September 2017. He was carrying an ISIS flag at the time.

Ibrahim Qoordheen (Somalia). Was caught in Costa Rica trying to reach the U.S./Mexico border. Authorities confirm he “is allegedly linked to international terrorist organizations and (authorities) sought his immediate detention to begin investigating the case.”

Unidentified Afghan national. According to court documents, between 2014-2016, a suspected member of the Pakistani Taliban was apprehended trying to cross the border. The Afghan “who authorities said was involved in a plot to conduct an attack in the U.S. or Canada and had family ties to members of the Taliban.” He was included on the U.S. “No Fly” List.

Muhammad Azeem and Mukhtar Ahmad (Pakistan). Captured at the Mexico-California border in September of 2015, Azeem and Ahmad were both on U.S. terror watch lists.

Unnamed Somali national. In May 2011, a man from Somalia who was on multiple terror watch lists was detained at the port of entry in San Ysidro, California. His mother, father, and four siblings were also on terrorist watch lists.16

Abdullahi Omar Fidse (Somalia). In June of 2008, Fidse was captured on his was to the Texas/Mexico border. He is a suspected member of the al-Shabaab Islamic terror group. He was implicated in several terror atatcks, including the 2010 Uganda bombing that killed 70 soccer fans. He is also suspected of planning to kill the U.S. ambassador to Kenya. He was a professed admirer of Osama bin Ladin.

Mahmoud Kourani (Lebanon). In February of 2001, Kourani was stopped trying to enter California from Mexico. He was a well-known and active member for Hezbollah, and his activities included fighting, recruiting, and fund-raising.

You can read more on the threat from terrorists crossing our Southern border by reading the Center for Immigration Studies report by clicking here.


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