U.S Soldiers with 541st Engineer Company, Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force 7, position concertina wire on a practice barricade at Naval Air Facility El Centro in California, Dec. 4, 2018. U.S. Northern Command is providing military support to the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to secure the Southern border of the United States. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Asia J. Sorenson)
Three media narratives have surfaced since President Donald Trump became the first U.S. president to say out loud this past October that migrants and terror suspects from Muslim-majority nations are routinely smuggled to the American southern border through porous Latin America. The variations go something like this:
- Such migration from Muslim-majority countries is an unproven myth and fear-mongering circulated with stories of prayer-rug discoveries to charge support for Trump's anti-immigrant policies.
- Even if some Middle Easterners and the like are smuggled to the border from those countries, they're no threat worth worrying about.
- No actual terror suspects have ever reached the southern border this way.
Count this post as another in a long series demonstrating that migration from Muslim-majority countries of the Middle East, South Asia, and the Horn of Africa actually happens and is steady as she goes. We know this not only because of trace evidence such as prayer rugs, but rather through prosecution records showing that ICE Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI) targets the smugglers of such migrants. As I have often written, ICE-HSI occupies the tip of the spear for this particular counter-terrorism effort, targeting the still-intact smuggling bridges that provide the means by which Islamist radicals have reached the border and have gained access to our nation's catch-and-release asylum system. And can and will again.
One of these cases is currently making its way through the federal district court in Del Rio, Texas.
The eight-count alien-smuggling indictment and complaint filed in United States of America v. Moayad Heider Mohammad Aldairi, a Jordanian with dual citizenship in Mexico and a home base in Monterrey, allege that he illegally transported at least seven Yemenis over the southern border in 2017 — near the same Piedras Negras (Mexico)-Eagle Pass (Texas) border-crossing that members of the last Central American migrant caravan were hoping to reach before Mexico detained them. The government alleges the Yemenis paid the defendant thousands of dollars each, paid "in Mexico, Jordan, and elsewhere" to get them into Texas through Latin America and that, once he got them into the Eagle Pass area, he gave some of his clients construction hard hats and reflective vests so they would "blend in better" after emerging from the Rio Grande on the American side.
American authorities arrested Aldairi abroad last year and extradited him to New York and then to the Western District of Texas, where he remains in custody pending the outcome of his case.
The latest word, according to court filings, is that he was planning to plead guilty on February 27, but then changed his mind. According to a filing by his San Antonio defense attorney, Ronald P. Guyer, the defendant wants to take this to a full trial in Texas. The reasons are not reflected in the court filings, and Guyer did not return several phone calls from CIS seeking comment.
Jury selection and trial were reset for March 19 in a Del Rio, Texas, courtroom, about an hour's drive from where the Yemenis crossed.
As an indicator of the sensitive national security aspects of this case, most of the filings — arrest warrants for at least a half-dozen witnesses bearing names such as Mohammed Al Huthaifi and Rasheed Samer Al-Dumani — remain sealed. The document sealings indicate a very active ongoing international investigation. Indeed, the government alleges that Aldairi used a number of co-conspirators in his alien-smuggling business.
But also because of the sealings, there's no public indication of whether one or more of the smuggled Yemenis might have been connected to terrorism in Yemen. Some of them did identify Aldairi in a photo line-up as their smuggler. Still, questions of terrorism connections are not implausible thoughts to have these days. An ongoing civil war in the country features al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS's Yemen branch. AQAP has held significant territory in Yemen and, in 2016, the group gained unprecedented resources by raiding the central bank and levying taxes.
Whatever else emerges from the Texas proceedings, one thing is not in dispute: Smuggling bridges make it possible for AQAP and ISIS operatives to reach our southern border from troubled lands like Yemen, whether they use them or not. This case demonstrates a homeland security risk that ICE and DHS professionals clearly are trying to manage with investigations and prosecutions.
Given a choice between believing a media punditry class claiming that this migration presents no threat at all or professional homeland security practitioners who think about this kind of migration all day long, every single day, for years — I'm going with the latter every time.
Todd Bensman is a Texas-based senior national security fellow for the Center for Immigration Studies. For nearly a decade, Bensman led counterterrorism-related intelligence efforts for the Texas Intelligence and Counterterrorism Division.