An unlikely FBI counterterrorism case wrapping up in Ohio casts a bright and shining light on a gaping national-security hole in the southwest border as the greatest mass migration crisis in American history overwhelms its defenses.
The Ohio FBI field office last year busted a local Iraqi asylum seeker, former al Qaeda fighter Shihab Ahmed Shihab Shihab, in the midst of orchestrating a credible international plot to assassinate President George W. Bush in Texas using a remarkable tactic.
An Ohio federal judge just accepted Shihab's guilty plea on charges he was going to smuggle at least four Iraqi nationals in over the southern border for the Bush assassination, court records show.
(Plea-deal papers showing all charges but one were dropped indicate Shihab is cooperating with US intelligence on overseas issues related to his plot.)
Lost in general media disinterest in terrorism cases that don't involve white supremacists is that this FBI investigation exposed — in rare, multi-colored detail — that serious Islamic terrorist operatives outside the country see the overwhelmed southern border with Mexico as a breachable route into America.
Of course they do. A record-smashing 4.8 million illegal immigrants have crossed since President Biden took office, according to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and other sources. At least 1.5 million of those are presumed to have entered the country undetected as "gotaways."
A former al Qaeda fighter who killed many US soldiers during the early phases of the Iraq War, Shihab himself somehow managed to fly into an American airport with a tourist visa under intelligence radars in September 2020, before this mass-migration crisis began.
He overstayed the tourist visa, lodged an asylum claim forestalling deportation and began contemplating the border, an arrest-warrant affidavit shows.
As border defenses collapsed, Shihab clearly realized that crossing terrorist operatives among the millions had become less risky than the tourist-visa-overstay method he'd used.
He claimed to undercover FBI informants that he'd successfully smuggled in two Hezbollah operatives over it, the records allege, without elaboration, then turned to replicating that success for the Bush assassination.
Shihab reached out to his former terrorist comrades with whom he'd killed Americans in Iraq, a unit once known as "Thunder" in Arabic, and began working with a new unit leader in Qatar.
Fortunately, the FBI introduced informants into Shihab's circle.
Plans called for at least four of eight Thunder terrorists to pay $40,000 each for travel into Brazil on fraudulently obtained visas, then go up through the notorious Darien Gap jungle-smuggling passage between Colombia and Panama.
A record-setting 250,000 immigrants from 150 countries crossed through the gap in 2022, compared with fewer than 10,000 most years in normal times, for perspective.
From Central America, Shihab's terrorists would meld unnoticed with the multinational masses moving north to the US-Mexico border, then cross maybe wearing faux Border Patrol uniforms, the informants reported.
As the plot progressed, Shihab actually flew to Texas and conducted surveillance of Bush's homes in Dallas and a central Texas ranch. He was figuring out how to provision weapons for the arriving operatives for when they could stalk and kill Bush.
His May 2022 arrest certainly foiled the plot but sounded an important alarm that must be heard as the historic multinational mass migration continues into its third year at ionospheric heights.
What this case demonstrates, beyond the fact these particular bad guys saw the border as more vulnerable to entry than before, is that the rest of the jihadist universe must also see it that way.
They'd be correct.
Since Biden's January 2021 inauguration, a record-breaking 169 illegal immigrants on the FBI terrorism watch list have been caught after their crossings, Customs and Border Protection statistics show. How many others got through among the 1.5 million "gotaways" who reached the interior and have disappeared is the crucial question.
Shihab undoubtedly hoped his terrorist brothers would be among those gotaways.
So many immigrants are now coming from countries of terrorism concern in the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa that a nonprofit saw enough demand for services to open up a shelter in Tijuana last April, just two blocks from the border wall, that caters only to Muslims.
It's always packed to capacity with Muslim migrants of unknown and unchecked backgrounds who all plan to cross into America one way or another.
When I investigated this facility last fall, I met Russian Chechens, Tajikistanis, Syrians, Uzbeks and Somalis.
The shelter's director admitted in November that since her grand opening, no one from American intelligence had ever reached out to ask her anything, and neither had the Mexicans.
The American indifference is just one of many pieces of evidence indicating security breakdown.
As I also recently reported, a Lebanese-Venezuelan migrant who swam the Rio Grande from Matamoros to Brownsville, Texas, in early December 2021 was on the FBI terror watch list.
FBI agents who still managed to interview him amid that month's record crush of humanity found "substantial derogatory intelligence" on the Venezuelan and counted him a "high risk" and a "flight risk," recommending he remain in custody, records I have show.
Normally, such individuals are deported. But instead, Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters ordered the man released for fear that, due to his weight, he might catch COVID.
He remained free last time I checked, pursuing an asylum claim in Detroit.
Another fouled-up case happened on the Mexican side, where the FBI is supposed to closely collaborate.
According to documents leaked to me, Mexican immigration officials in April 2021 caught a watch-listed Yemeni named Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed just as he was about to cross into Del Rio, Texas.
Mexico tried deporting him. But in July 2021, a moment the border was swamped on both sides, the Yemeni came back. Rather than deport Ahmed, as I reported, the Mexicans simply let him go to clear out detention centers. A Be-On-the-Lookout, which I have, went to law enforcement along the US border.
It's unclear if American law enforcement ever found him.
In late May, Fox News reported that Border Patrol somehow missed that Colombian national Isnardo Garcia-Amado was on the FBI's terror watch list after it caught him crossing near Yuma, Ariz., in April.
In the chaos that month, Border Patrol released the suspected terrorist and gave him a GPS monitoring device as an alternative to detention, a common way now for the agency to process the hundreds of thousands of migrants overwhelming detention centers.
Garcia-Amado was free inside the United States for two weeks before Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested him in Pinellas County, Fla., May 6.
Before the feds wrap up the Shihab case with a final bow and move on, America should pause and understand what it means as the historic Biden border crisis rages on for at least the next two years.
Todd Bensman is a fellow at the Middle East Forum and a senior national security fellow for the Center for Immigration Studies. He previously led counterterrorism-related intelligence efforts for the Texas Intelligence and Counterterrorism Division.