When then-FBI Director Robert Mueller testified in the House Judiciary Committee on May 9, 2012, Republican Rep. Elton Gallegly of California asked him about the threat of terrorists entering the United States by crossing the Southern border.
“First of all, as it relates to the Southwest border,” said Gallegly, “do you see any growing evidence of al-Qaeda or any other terrorist organization working to exploit our border with the attempt to launch another terrorist attack on our own soil?”
Mueller indicated he was more concerned about Hezbollah doing that than al-Qaeda.
“As to the Southwest border and al-Qaeda, we have not seen an increase of effort by al-Qaeda to come across the Southwest border,” said Mueller. “On the other hand, when you open the question up to other terrorist groups, I would say that we have a continuing concern about Iranian influence, actors, and Hizballah.”
In fact, Mueller had testified in the Senate Committee on Intelligence on Feb. 16, 2005, about a Hizballah fundraiser from Lebanon who had been discovered in Michigan. “In 2004,” Mueller said in a statement to the committee, “we had some success in uncovering individuals providing material support to Hezbollah.”
“In Detroit, Mahmoud Youssef Kourani was indicted in the Eastern District of Michigan on one count of Conspiracy to Provide Material Support to Hizballah,” Mueller said. “Kourani was already in custody for entering the country illegally through Mexico and was involved in fundraising activities on behalf of Hizballah.”
A staff report on “9/11 and Terrorist Travel” published in 2004 by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States provided information about a smuggler who smuggled “Lebanese nationals sympathetic to Hamas and Hizballah into the United States.”
“In July 2001,” said the report, “the CIA warned of a possible link between human smugglers and terrorist groups, including Hamas, Hezballah, and Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that since 1999 human smugglers have facilitated the travel of terrorists associated with more than a dozen extremist groups.”
“One smuggler, Salim Boughader-Mucharrafille,” said the report, “smuggled Lebanese nationals sympathetic to Hamas and Hizballah into the United States and relied on corrupt Mexican officials in Beirut, Mexico City and Tijuana to facilitate their travel. Specifically, Boughader obtained Mexican tourist visas from an official at the Mexican embassy in Beirut to facilitate the travel of humans to Mexico.”
“Boughader was charged with human smuggling and sentenced to 11 months in prison,” said the report. “After serving his sentence he was deported to Mexico where he was arrested along with several other members of his smuggling ring.”
“In May 2006,” the Congressional Research Service reported in 2007, “a Mexican judge reportedly sentenced Boughader-Mucharrafille to fourteen years in prison for his role in the smuggling ring and on organized crime charges.”
So, after discovering that “Lebanese nationals sympathetic to Hamas and Hizballah” had been smuggled into the United States from Mexico, did the United States secure its southern border?
Over each of the past four years, Customs and Border Protection has encountered an increasing number of individuals on the “Terrorist Screening Dataset” trying to sneak into the United States between the ports of entry on the Mexican border. This dataset, according to CBP, includes “known or suspected terrorists” and “additional individuals who represent a potential threat to the United States, including known affiliates of watchlisted individuals.”
In fiscal 2019, as this column has noted before, CBP did not encounter a single individual on this terrorist watchlist trying to sneak across the Mexican border. In 2020, it encountered 3. In 2021, it encountered 15. In 2022, it encountered 98.
In fiscal 2023, which ended in September, it encountered 169.
This February, the State Department issued its “Country Reports on Terrorism 2021.” What did it say about Hizballah?
“Lebanon-based and Iran-backed terrorist group Hizballah continued its long history of activity in the Western Hemisphere, including fundraising by its supporters and financiers in place like the tri-border area, where the borders of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet,” said the State Department. “Hizballah supporters generate funding through licit and illicit activity and donate undetermined amounts to Hizballah in Lebanon, which uses the funds to advance its broader agenda. In recent years, Hizballah supporters and members have been identified in Chile, Columbia, Panama, Peru and the United States.”
Jennie Taer of the Daily Caller News Foundation (where this writer is investigative editor) published a report this week that Customs and Border Protection had issued a memo on October 20 warning that “[f]oreign fighters” from the Middle East might try to enter the United States from Mexico.
“San Diego Field Office Intelligence Unit (SDFO-FITU) assesses that individuals inspired by, or reacting to, the current Israel-Hamas conflict may attempt to travel to or from the area of hostilities in the Middle East via circuitous transit across the Southwest border,” said the memo.
“Foreign fighters motivated by ideology or mercenary soldiers of fortune may attempt to obfuscate travel to or from the U.S. to or from countries in the Middle East through Mexico.”
So, how many Hizballah — or Hamas — terrorists are in the United States today? Since our southern border is not secure and many people cross it illegally every day, our federal government has no way of knowing.
Terence P. Jeffrey is investigative editor for the Daily Caller News Foundation.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.
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