Border security is once again front and center on the American political scene as politicians in Washington posture in the debate over whether the U.S. should build some sort of border wall or fence on its porous southern border with Mexico.
Whenever the Mexican border is at the top of the news, it serves as a reminder that our southern border is almost completely unsecure. And there have been some reminders mixed in over the years that Washington has ignored this problem about the potential for a terrorist threat from south of the border, such as James O’Keefe of Project Veritas wading across the Rio Grande dressed like Osama Bin Laden.
Some on the Left insist on downplaying the threat from terrorism on America’s southern border, almost to the point that they insist that there is NO threat from terrorists associated with our insecure borders (the reality is that the potential threat exists on our northern border as well).
But there IS a Jihadist threat from south of the border and it is not new. It has been discussed since well before 9/11. The Jihadist threat on the southern border is real and it is multifaceted.
There is no way to estimate how many jihadists may already have crossed into the U.S. from Mexico. But the time to play politics with the border issue is long past. The shallow sloganeering and race-baiting that have dominated the national debate about border controls should be recognized as what they are: hindrances to sane and sensible national defense measures.
OTM is an acronym for illegal aliens who are ‘Other Than Mexican’ — SIA stands for ‘Special Interest Aliens’ from 34 nations like Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, Pakistan, and Yemen.
Mexicans trying to enter the U.S. illegally are often simply processed at the border and sent back. But Mexico won’t allow us to send citizens from other countries back through Mexico, and under U.S. law, they’re entitled to a formal deportation hearing. The immigration service lacks beds to hold them, so the vast majority of OTMs are released from custody and asked to voluntarily return for their court date.
From 2008-2010, an estimated 180,000 OTMs (Other Than Mexicans) were believed to have crossed the border illegally. In that same period, 1,918 “Special Interest” OTMs were apprehended on the border.It is generally believed that for every illegal alien apprehended at the border, there are several who elude border security and are not apprehended.
Law enforcement sources in Arizona have told me that it has become increasingly common for Muslims in Mexico to change their Islamic surnames to Hispanic sounding names to facilitate moving across the border. Apologists claim this is simply to avoid discrimination.
Perhaps not coincidentally, there has been a noticeable proliferation of Salafist mosques in Latin America since the early 1990s and an increasing proselytization campaign on the part of Wahhabi and Saudi-funded nongovernmental organizations like the World Assembly for Muslim Youth (WAMY). It is worth mentioning that WAMY’s U.S. operations were shut down by the Justice Department due to the organization’s massive material support for Jihad.
My law enforcement sources tell me that drug cartels have been involved in trafficking Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab and Hezbollah operatives into the US.
The vast majority of the time, the media line is that the overwhelming majority of the people crossing our southern border are just poor innocents looking for work and a meager wage. Evaluated in the most simplistic terms, this is of course, partly true. But the more complex reality isn’t that simple or sanitary.
According to law enforcement personnel I have spoken to, the majority of border crossers are NOT economic immigrants.
An examination of anecdotes about general enforcement conditions on the U.S.-Mexican border paint a picture that indicates that America has not taken the steps necessary to defend itself from terrorist infiltration.
For instance, there are severe constraints on border enforcement personnel. The Border Patrol is forbidden from patrolling on federal land, opening large swathes of territory by default. Demoralized Border Patrol officers also report receiving instructions over the years to avoid detaining and processing illegal aliens.
Against these constraints, our border and immigration enforcement personnel are going up against a robust, sophisticated alliance of drug cartels and Jihadis.
According the law enforcement personnel in Arizona, cartels are buying real estate on both sides of the border to set up staging areas and camps. The cartels employ high-tech communications gear superior to that in the hands of US law enforcement. Cartels and “coyotes” employ scouts and snipers on the high ground along trafficking routes—as far north as Phoenix.
Border enforcement personnel report that the Mexican army has in fact provided surveillance and cover fire FOR traffickers on more than one occasion in the past.
Arizona ranchers report that they are afraid to use their cell phones in the open because cartel snipers might think they are calling in reports to law enforcement and kill them. Even U.S. law and border enforcement personnel are careful about using communications gear in the open on the southern border.
Anecdotal Evidence of Jihadi Activity on the Southern Border Over the Years
• In an infamous undated video, a Muslim cleric in Kuwait, Abdullah al-Nafsi, in a sermon in his mosque said that “there is no need for airplanes and planning; one man with the courage to carry a suitcase of anthrax through the tunnels from Mexico to the United States could kill 330,000 Americans in one hour.”
• In June 2004, the US Border Patrol arrested 77 “Middle Eastern” men attempting to cross the border from Mexico illegally.
• In October 2004, US intelligence officials received reports that 25 Chechans had illegally crossed into Arizona from Mexico.
• In December 2004, a Bangladeshi Muslim named Fakhrul Islam, was arrested crossing the southern border from Mexico in the company of the Central American gang MS-13.
• In January 2005, two Hamas operatives, Mahmoud Khalil and Ziad Saleh, were arrested as part of a criminal enterprise in Los Angeles. Both had entered the U.S. after paying a smuggler $10,000 each to take them across the border.
• In September 2007, Texas’ top homeland security official, Steve McCraw, told the El Paso Times that terrorists with ties to Hezbollah, Hamas and Al Qaeda had been arrested crossing the Texas border with Mexico in recent years.
• In November 2007, the FBI issued an advisory about a plan by jihadists in league with Mexican drug lords to cross the border via underground tunnels and attack the intelligence training center at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, twenty miles from the border with Mexico. “The Afghanis and Iraqis,” one official explained, paid the Mexicans $20,000 or “the equivalent in weapons” for their help in getting into the U.S., and “shaved their beards so as not to appear to be Middle Easterners.”
• In February 2008, three Afghanis were arrested at an international airport in India for traveling on forged Mexican passports.
• A 2010 GAO report detailed the ease with which WMD might be smuggled across the southern border. In a simulation exercise conducted by intelligence and law enforcement agencies, in three states, investigators were able to cross undetected, successfully simulating the cross-border movement of radioactive materials or other contraband into the United States.
“The Border Patrol nabbed two Pakistani men with ties to terrorism at the U.S.-Mexico border in September in the latest instance of illegal immigrants from so-called “special interest countries” using the southern border as a point of entry to the U.S.
Muhammad Azeem and Mukhtar Ahmad, both in their 20s and from Gujrat, were caught Sept. 20 by agents south of San Diego and just over the international border from Tijuana. When agents checked their identities through databases they got hits on both of them: Mr. Ahmad popped up as an associate of a known or suspected terrorist, while Mr. Azeem’s information had been shared by a foreign government for intelligence purposes.
Both men had been processed two months earlier by immigration officials in Panama, suggesting they took advantage of smuggling networks or other routes increasingly used by Central American illegal immigrants to sneak into the U.S.”
Most recently, the House Homeland Security Committee has released a 29-page report detailing the latest about the terrorist threat on America’s southern border.
• The recent migrant caravans originating in Central America have included “several SIAs, and potentially” known or suspected terrorists traveling toward the U.S. border.
• The U.S. Department of Homeland Security continues to prioritize the SIA threat as one of the top threats to the homeland because of the consistently “large number” of individuals from special interest countries that travel to the Western Hemisphere using illicit pathways.
• Written ISIS materials and publications have encouraged ISIS followers to cross the U.S. Southwest Border.
• DHS Border Patrol Agents “routinely” encounter SIAs at the border using routes controlled by transnational criminal organizations.
• Statistics on the number of known or suspected terrorists on routes to the border are often classified, but the threat posed by “the existence of illicit pathways into the United States” highlights that “border security is national security” as terrorist groups seek to exploit vulnerabilities among neighboring countries to fund, support, and commit attacks against the homeland.
• The report lists five open-source, unclassified cases representing the types of individuals and threats associated with illicit routes to the homeland. (CIS recently compiled and published a list of 15.) A number of heavily redacted cases are included in which biometric enrollment information uncovered suspected terrorists in 2013, 2015, and 2018.
• The frequency of international flights from special interest regions into Latin America and the Caribbean continues to increase due to economic and governance challenges in those countries that create an attractive environment for illicit SIA travel to the U.S. border.
• ICE Homeland Security Investigations is deeply enmeshed in investigations and operations throughout Central America to counter human smuggling organizations that move SIAs in Panama, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Brazil.
• The United States-Canada border “is also susceptible to exploitation by SIAs.”
CIS has also detailed more incidents of terrorists on our southern border:
• Abdulahi Sharif, Somalia, detained in Alberta, Canada, September 2017, ISIS (“It soon emerged that some years earlier, in 2011, Sharif smuggled through Latin America and Mexico to the California border.”)
• Ibrahim Qoordheen, Somalia, detained in Costa Rica, March 2017, probable al-Shabaab (Detained in Costa Rica en route to U.S. southern border)
• Unidentified Afghan national, reported smuggled into the United States, between 2014-2016, Pakistani Taliban. (In 2017, federal prosecutors convicted Sharafat Ali Khan, a Pakistani human smuggler based in Brazil, for transporting between 25 and 99 illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan from Brazil to Texas and California over the Mexican border. According to the Washington Times, at least one of Khan’s customers was an 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.”)
• Muhammad Azeem and Mukhtar Ahmad, Pakistani nationals, Mexico-California border, September 2015, affiliation unknown. (U.S. Border Patrol agents apprehended Azeem and Ahmad just north of Tijuana after the pair had traveled from their home in Gujrat, Pakistan, through Latin America. Database checks revealed that both migrants were on U.S. terrorism watch lists.)
• Unnamed Somali national, detained at the Texas-Mexico border port of entry, June 2014, probable al-Shabaab. (This Somali entrant told U.S. immigration officials that two months prior to his border entry to claim asylum he had completed training for a suicide attack in Mogadishu but instead went to African Union troops who were able to thwart the planned terrorist operation. He stated that he had trained with 13 other Somalis for 10 weeks to use suicide belts, AK-47s, and grenades.)
• Unnamed Sri Lankan national, detained at Texas-Mexico border, March 2012, Tamil Tigers. (This Sri Lankan was with two other Sri Lankans apprehended by Border Patrol agents in McAllen, Texas. He stated that he belonged to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization.)
• Unnamed Somali national, detained at Mexico-California port of entry, May 2011, probable al-Shabaab. (Somali individual crossed the border at the San Ysidro, Calif., port of entry. He had previously been denied a U.S. immigration visa and was on multiple U.S. terrorism watch lists. His mother, father, and four siblings also were on terrorism watch lists.)
• Unnamed Bangladeshi national, detained near Naco, Ariz., June 2010, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh. (One of two Bangladeshis apprehended after traveling together and illegally crossing from Mexico admitted to U.S. Border Patrol interviewers that both had worked in the “General Assembly” for the U.S.-designated terrorist group Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh. Subsequently, one of two detainees was deported, but the other was granted bond on an asylum claim and absconded.)
• Abdullahi Omar Fidse, Somalia, detained at Mexico-Texas Border, June 2008, al-Shabaab. (In July 2013, a U.S. District Judge sentenced Fidse on convictions for lying to the FBI about his terrorism associations after he traveled through Latin America to a Mexico-Texas port of entry in 2008. An FBI counterterrorism investigation found he had served as an al-Shabaab combat operative, crossed the border intending to conduct an unspecified operation, possessed the cell phone number of a terrorist implicated in the 2010 Uganda bombing that killed 70 soccer fans, and laid out details of a plan to assassinate the U.S. ambassador to Kenya and his Marine guard.)
• Mohammad Ahmad Dhakane, Somalia, detained at Mexico-Texas border port of entry, October 2008, al-Ittihad al-Islamiya. (In 2010, Dhakane was convicted at trial in San Antonio, Texas, on asylum fraud charges derived from an FBI terrorism investigation, which began when he was recorded speaking about his work as a terrorist to an undercover informant inside a Texas detention facility. Dhakane had worked as a Brazil-based smuggler of fellow Somalis to the U.S. border )
Al Qaeda on the Southern Border
The Al Qaeda threat in Latin America has been well documented:
• On June 30, 2004 it was announced by the Honduran Security Ministry that high-ranking Al Qaeda operative Adnān Shukrī Jumaʿah (Adnan Gulshair el Shukrijumah) had been in Honduras during the previous month meeting with members of the MS13 street gang. He is also believed to have conducted surveillance of the Panama Canal. He was still one of the most wanted terrorists in the world at the time he was killed in Pakistan in 2014. (He happened to be the son of an Imam from Miramar, FL incidentally)”
• In July 2004, a woman named Farida Goolam Mohamed Ahmed was arrested at a Texas airport boarding a flight to New York after she either walked or swam across the Mexican border into Texas. According to the Washington Post, she was connected to a Pakistani terrorist group and was believed to be ferrying instructions to U.S.-based Al Qaeda operatives.
• In November 2004, captured Al Qaeda Egyptian Jihadist Sharif al-Masri told US interrogators that Al Qaeda sought to exploit the US’s porous southern border and possibly smuggle radiological material across it from Mexico.
• In February 2005, Porter Goss, the director of central intelligence, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Al Qaeda had considered infiltrating the United States through the Mexican border.
• In February 2005, Adm. James M. Loy, the deputy secretary of homeland security testified before Congress that intelligence “strongly suggests” that Al Qaeda operatives have considered using the Mexican border as an entry point. Admiral Loy cited recent information from investigations and detentions as the basis for his concern about the Mexican border. He added, “Several Al Qaeda leaders believe operatives can pay their way into the country through Mexico and also believe illegal entry is more advantageous than legal entry for operational security reasons.”
• Also in 2005, FBI Director Robert Mueller’s congressional testimony indicated that “there are individuals from countries with known Al Qaeda connections who are changing their Islamic surnames to Hispanic-sounding names and obtaining false Hispanic identities, learning to speak Spanish and pretending to be Hispanic.”
• In November 2005, Texas Congressman John Culberson described on national TV how an Iraqi al-Qaeda operative on the terror watch list was captured living near the Mexico-Texas border.
Al Shabaab on the Southern Border
The east African Jihadist organization Al Shabaab has been discovered to have a footprint in Mexico. They are receiving Mexican language and cultural assimilation training, have been discovered to have a relationship of convenience with the Mexican drug cartels, and have been smuggling their operatives into the United States to raise money and to recruit members to their cause:
• In 2010, a man named Ahmed Muhammad Dhakane allegedly secreted “hundreds of people” — including Somalis believed to be associated with Al Shabaab — into the United States. Prior to arriving to Congress, Congressman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) worked as chief of counterterrorism in the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Western District of Texas — part of the Lone Star State that borders with Mexico. McCaul’s statement on this incident is chilling: “To this day we do not know where those 300 Somalis are … We do know they are in the United States.”
• In May 2010, the DHS sent an alert to Texas law enforcement to be on the lookout for a suspected member of Al Shabaab suspected of entering Texas from Mexico.
• In June 2010, Mexican Marines raided a house occupied by an Al Shabaab member in Mexico City, uncovering a large cache of explosives reportedly to be used in an attack on the US embassy, which was less than a mile away.
Hezbollah on the Southern Border
The Iranian-backed Shia Jihadist terrorist group Hezbollah is probably the biggest threat on the southern border:
• In February 2001, Mahmoud Kourani (the brother of Hezbollah’s security chief in southern Lebanon) came across the border from Tijuana into California in the trunk of a car, after bribing a Mexican embassy official in Beirut to get a visa. He eventually settled in Dearborn, Michigan. Kourani had received training in weapons, intelligence, and spycraft in Iran.
• In December 2002, Salim Boughader was arrested for smuggling 200 Lebanese, including Hezbollah operatives, across the border from Tiajuana into California. Boughader had previously worked for Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV satellite network.
• In April 2006, FBI Director Robert Muller announced that the Iranian-backed Hezbollah had succeeded in smuggling operatives across the Mexican border into the U.S. Mr. Muller claimed the FBI had dismantled the smuggling ring, identified the people who had been smuggled in and “addressed” them. Or at least “addressed” those we knew about. Or something.
• In July 2010, Mexican authorities announced that they had broken up a Hezbollah network operating in their country.
• An indictment was handed down on August 30, 2010 by the Southern District Court of New York that showed a connection between Hezbollah and the drug cartels that violently plague the U.S.-Mexico border. In short, a well-known international arms dealer was trying to orchestrate an arms-for-drugs deal in which cocaine from FARC – the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which works with Mexican drug cartels to take cocaine into America – would be traded for thousands of weapons housed by a Hezbollah operative in Mexico.
• Michael Braun, a former Drug Enforcement Administration chief of operations, has even been quoted as saying, “Hezbollah relies on the same criminal weapons smugglers, document traffickers and transportation experts as the drug cartels. … They work together; they rely on the same shadow facilitators. One way or another, they are all connected.” In February 2012, Braun testified before Congress that Hezbollah, had developed strong, sophisticated relationships with Mexican drug cartels: “And by developing those relations it provided them with the ability to operate far from home in our neighborhood and on our doorstep.”
• In September 2012, three members of Hezbollah–including a US citizen named Rafic Mohammad Labboun Allaboun–were arrested in Merida, Mexico and turned over the US authorities. Allaboun was carrying a fake passport identifying him as a citizen of Belize at the time of arrest. Once a prominent Muslim leader in Northern California, Labboun spent over two years in prison for credit card fraud. Authorities suspected that the $100,000 in credit card fraud was linked to Hezbollah’s money laundering activities.
What all this adds up to is that the American people are being sold a bill of goods.
When politicians call for action to “reform” immigration they ignore the reality that the most pressing need for true reform is border security and there has been no Congressional action on that issue whatsoever.
This is despite the fact that there is a true national security threat on the southern border. Our Jihadist enemies have openly discussed this vulnerability and have already exploited it in documented cases. Pundits who go on national television and declare that there has never been a single credible report of a terrorist threat on the southern border are either ignorant or dishonest.
The American people are right to be concerned about the vulnerability of our porous, undefended borders. Open borders in the age of global Jihad amount to insanity.
Christopher Holton is Vice President for Outreach at the Center for Security Policy. Mr. Holton came to the Center after serving as president and marketing director of Blanchard & Co. and editor-in-chief of the Blanchard Economic Research Unit from 1990 to 2003. As chief of the Blanchard Economic Research Unit in 2000, he conceived and commissioned the Center for Security Policy special report “Clinton’s Legacy: The Dangerous Decade.” Holton is a member of the Board of Advisers of WorldTribune.com. Follow Holton on Twitter @CHoltonCSP