By Todd Bensman
Middle Easterners do travel the same routes as Hondurans to the U.S. southern border, and rising numbers of suspected terrorists have been apprehended at the border in recent years.
President Trump’s recent claim that some Middle Easterners might be among caravan members moving north from Honduras provoked a storm of inquest seeking proof. The president had none to immediately offer. Scorn followed. Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, in one emblematic expression, dismissed the idea of Middle Easterners and potential terrorists among them as “pretty much a canard and a fear tactic.”
When reporters pressed a few days later, the president said he had “very good information” that the caravan included Middle Easterners, but “There’s no proof of anything.” Sunday night, a group of mostly male caravan members charged the U.S. border throwing rocks and shouting “Yes, we can,” according to Fox News. In response, U.S. Customs and Border Protection closed the port of entry between Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego.
While President Trump may well have employed the prospect of terrorist infiltration as election messaging, Middle Easterners from places like Syria, Iraq, and Egypt do indeed travel the same routes as Hondurans to the U.S. southern border, and rising numbers of suspected terrorists have, in fact, been apprehended at the border or en route in recent years.
One public case-in-point is Somali national Ibrahim Qoordheen, caught in Costa Rica in March 2017 after passing through Panama on a northward route. Costa Rican authorities publicly announced that U.S. officials requested his detention to investigate him as “connected to an international terrorist organization.”
Qoordheen is among growing ranks of suspected terrorists now being encountered on well-known U.S. border-bound land routes, or at southwest border itself. In fact, intelligence community sources with access to this information tell me that more than 100 migrants from “countries of interest” were apprehended between from 2012 through 2017 at the border or en route who were on U.S. terrorism “watch lists”— namely, the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE), or the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB).
Much of this kind of information is classified, since all such encounters spark law enforcement investigations and intelligence-gathering that could be ruined by public disclosure. But quite a few instances over the years have become public to include border-crossers connected to al-Shabaab of Somalia, Hezbollah of Lebanon, and Harkat-al-Jihad-al-Islami of Bangladesh.