November 28, 2018 2:07PM

Center for Immigration Studies Shows a Very Small Threat from Terrorists Crossing the Mexican Border

Todd Bensman, the Senior National Security Fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), wrote a recent report entitled “Have Terrorists Crossed Our Border?” in which he presents a list of “15 suspected terrorists have been apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border, or en route, since 2001.” Bensman lists these 15 individuals, some of which don’t have names, and describes their actions. He writes that his research is based on publicly available information, so it is likely a “significant under‐​count” of the actual terrorists who entered. Bensman also writes that “several reports that strongly indicated the crossing of additional migrant terrorism suspects were excluded from this list due to insufficient detail.” 

If the goal of this CIS report was to show how small the terrorist threat along the Mexican border is, then it succeeded marvelously. None of the terrorists identified committed an attack on U.S. soil, were convicted of planning an attack on U.S. soil, or even charged with doing so. They killed or injured zero people on U.S. soil in terrorist attacks. The only actual terrorism conviction for this group is of conspiracy to materially aid a foreign terrorist organization. However, one person who entered the United States on his way to Canada did commit an attack in Alberta where he injured five people. 

Six of the 15 people that Bensman identifies are unnamed, thus we cannot independently verify or check whether they belong on this list (Table 1). Interestingly, much of the evidence for those six unnamed individuals comes from passing comments in news stories or a Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) report whose evidence is “deemed credible,” but that “could not be independently corroborated.” Who deemed that evidence to be credible? If people can’t independently corroborate the evidence, how can we know that it is credible? We should take such claims with a large grain of salt, especially after frequent government terrorism exaggerations

Table 1 organizes the names that Bensman provides. None committed or attempted to commit an attack on U.S. soil. Two of the individuals were charged with terrorism offenses. Mahmoud Kourani was charged and convicted of conspiracy to materially support a foreign terrorist organization (MSFT), Hezbollah, and sentenced to 54 months. His actions are certainly troubling and should be illegal, but there is no evidence that he was a threat to American lives or property. The Muhammad Kourani case is more nuanced and odd. He was a member of Hezbollah who became an informant for the United States. After giving the FBI information on Hezbollah, the government used that information to charge Kourani with MSFT and conspiracy to do so. There’s no evidence that he had any intention to every commit an attack on U.S. soil. His trial will occur in 2019, so it’s premature to count him as a terrorist although he seems to have deep “ties” with Hezbollah.

Table 1
Terrorists, Suspected Terrorists, and Those with Suspected Terrorism Ties

Name Committed an Attack on US Soil Attempted or Planned an Attack on US Soil Terrorism Charges in the United States Terrorism Convictions in the United States Notes
Abdulahi Sharif No No No No Sharif committed an attack in Canada, injuring 5.
Ibrahim Qoordheen No No No No
Unidentified Afghan national No No No No
Muhammad Azeem No No No No
Mukhtar Ahmad No No No No
Unnamed Somali national No No No No
Unnamed Sri Lankan national No No No No
Unnamed Somali national No No No No
Unnamed Bangladeshi National No No No No
Abdullahi Omar Fidse No No No No 18 USC 1505 is not a terrorism statute, but there is an extra penalty if it involves a terrorism investigation. 
Mohammad Ahmad Dhakane No No No No
Farida Goolam Ahmed No No No No
Muhammad Kourani No No MSFT and MSFT Conspiracy No A court case is scheduled for 2019.
Al‐​Manar Television employee No No No No
Mahmoud Kourani No No MSFT Conspiracy Yes

Source: “Have Terrorists Crossed Our Border?” by Todd Bensman. 

Another interesting example is Ibrahim Qoordheen (sometimes spelled Qoordheer), who was arrested in Costa Rica while supposedly on his way to the U.S. border. There is almost no publicly available research on him after his arrest in March 2017. Gustavo Mata, the Costa Rican Minister of Public Security, said they would extradite Qoordheen to the United States if the U.S. government provided any evidence of his terrorism ties beyond a hit in a government database. There is no government press release announcing his extradition to the United States and no other evidence online of what happened to Qoordheen, but he certainly wasn’t charged or convicted with any terrorism offenses in the United States. 

The only example of a real terrorist who crossed the border with Mexico during this time was Abdulahi Sharif. He injured five people in an attack in Canada in 2017 and is currently awaiting trial there. The evidence is sketchy, but Sharif apparently tried to enter the United States through a port of entry in 2011 and was detained – as he should have been. There’s no indication that he made an asylum claim. Regardless, the U.S. government let him go because it could not deport him to Somalia and lost track of him as he applied for refugee or asylum status in Canada in early 2012. Five years later, Sharif tried to murder five people in Alberta, Canada. Six years passed from Sharif’s attempted entry to the United States in 2011 to his attack in Canada in 2017. His weapons were a knife and a car. It’s hard to believe that he was planning to commit an attack before going to Canada, but a perfect system that could predict the future would have stopped him. It bears repeating that Sharif did not commit an attack on U.S. soil and did not plan to commit an attack here.

Furthermore, Bensman’s rhetoric is unreasonably alarming relative to the scale of the terrorist threat along the Mexican border. The title of Bensman’s report is “Have Terrorists Crossed Our Border?” Surely, that means he must be talking about only terrorists, right? Nope. The subtitle walks back the title: “An initial count of suspected terrorists encountered en route and at the U.S. Southwest Border Since 2001 [emphasis added].” So, his report only covers suspected terrorists? Nope. Elsewhere in the document, Bensman writes that his report:

[P]rovides an initial accounting of publicly documented instances, between 2001 and November 2018, of some 15 migrants with credibly suspected or confirmed terrorism ties who were encountered at the southern border after smuggling through Latin America, or who were encountered while presumably en route [emphasis added].

Those with “credibly suspected or confirmed terrorism ties,” are quite a bit different from suspected terrorists and even more distantly related to real terrorists. Lots of people have “ties” to terrorists that are not significant in any way. For instance, those related to terrorists have “terrorism ties,” but that does not mean that the family members of terrorists are themselves, terrorists. In other words, he’s counting just about everyone apprehended who has “terrorism ties” according to “credible” evidence that “could not be independently corroborated” in many cases. To see how ludicrous this standard is, which is common in much of the terrorism literature, substitute in another crime such as robbery for “terrorism” and see how unremarkable these statements are. 

This is a common rhetorical trick in terrorism publications. For instance, a government list of “627 terrorism‐​related” prosecutions revealed that 45 percent of them were only convicted of non‐​terrorism offenses. The three Abuali brothers are my favorites. They are included in the government’s list of “terrorism‐​related” convictions even though their crime was stealing boxes of breakfast cereal, Kellogg’s specifically. Stealing boxes of Raisin Bran is a crime, but depriving people of their breakfast doesn’t count as terrorism and neither are the cases that Bensman provides below. 

A count of real terrorists who have crossed the Mexican border since 2001 and wanted to harm Americans would be very short: it would contain zero names. Three people entered the U.S. illegally through the Mexican border in 1984 and grew up to be terrorists who were convicted of planning an incompetent plot in 2008. When Americans think of terrorists, they think of people attacking Americans on U.S. soil. Sending information to Hezbollah is a terrorist offense and it should be illegal, but it is not as dangerous or severe as setting off a bomb or shooting people in pursuit of Jihad. The only possible exception to this is Abdulahi Sharif who entered the United States on his way to Canada where he then committed an attack five years later. 

Bensman claims that he left out many names because of “insufficient detail,” but one can only imagine how thin the evidence against them is based on how little of it exists to condemn men with names as terrifying as “Al‐​Manar Television employee” and “Unnamed Bangladeshi national.” Except for Abdulahi Sharif, who tried to enter through a port of entry and then went to Canada several years before committing his attack where he injured five people, there is little evidence of a terrorist threat from the Mexican border. If this is the best evidence available of a terrorist threat across the Mexican border, then we should all feel a lot more secure.