Takeaways from the latest ICE effort to shut down bridges that connect Muslim-majority nations to the U.S. Southwest border
The first border-crossing migrant to allegedly conduct an ISIS-inspired attack in North America was a Somali named Abdulahi Hasan Sharif, who somehow first made his way to Tijuana and across the California border, as I recently detailed. Sharif went on to carry an ISIS flag while conducting two September 30, 2017, vehicle-ramming attacks in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, that injured five people. Among the questions I identified as unasked and unanswered, was: How did Sharif get all the way to Tijuana? Knowing how he and other Somalis get to our border serves the tactical purpose of helping border security agencies interdict more migrants coming from such terrorist-harboring countries so that they can assess character and intentions. But the ongoing smuggling of non-Mexican migrants symbolized by the Sharif attack case also should serve to remind policy-makers, homeland security leaders, and the general public, as they contemplate immigration reform, that illegal immigration enforcement is often also straight counterterrorism with a priority national security purpose. Any change to immigration enforcement should be handled with the inclusion of this fundamental strategic understanding.
One reliable way to learn how Sharif and others from the Horn of Africa get to our border is to pay close attention to what ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations division is up to. You wouldn’t know it from all the talk about disbanding ICE, but its HSI division is the tip of the spear going after the smugglers of “special interest aliens” (SIAs) and potentially ill-intentioned extremists among them trying to reach the U.S. southern border from countries that harbor Islamist terrorists. As I wrote recently in describing the prosecutions of a Brazil-based Pakistani SIA smuggler and of a Jordanian one based in Mexico, these unsung ICE-HSI counterterrorism operations provide rare footage, so to speak, of a largely unseen corner in America’s war on terror right where it blends with illegal immigration enforcement.
The latest ICE-HSI smuggling case, a rare and valuable instrument of public knowledge, is now partially unveiled (I can only count 22 such prosecutions since 9/11). An August 8, 2018, criminal probable-cause complaint shows not only how an accused Somali ISIS attacker like Sharif might have gotten to California, but also how many dozens of others from East Africa actually did. The glimpse comes in the matter of United States v. Mohamed Abdi Siyad, aka “Hassan” in the Southern District of California. Investigating HSI Special Agent David Whitacre describes how Hassan, from his base in São Paulo, Brazil, provided the connecting bridge by which many dozens of Somalis and other Horn of Africa migrants — extremists potentially among them — traveled from the African continent through Latin America and on to both the California and Texas borders.