This week we discuss terrorist-connected aliens at the border with Todd Bensman and Islamist cults with Ryan Mauro

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National Security Threats at the U.S. Border
An interview with Todd Bensman - Illegally entering Special Interest Aliens (SIAs)

bensman.jpgTodd Bensman is the Center for Immigration Studies’ Texas-based Senior National Security Fellow. Prior to joining CIS, he led homeland security intelligence efforts in the public sector. Bensman’s work on policy and intelligence operations is based on his more than 20 years as an award-winning journalist covering national security topics, with a particular focus on the Texas border. Prior to his government experience, Bensman worked for The Dallas Morning News, CBS, and Hearst Newspapers, covering the FBI and serving on investigative teams. He reported extensively on national security issues after 9/11 and worked from more than 25 countries in Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa.
Special Interest Aliens (SIA’s), people with terrorist connections who are illegally entering the United States, is an overlooked domestic threat that government homeland security experts are only now beginning to address.  Given the spate of terrorist attacks in Europe by lone wolves associated with radical Islamic groups and operatives smuggled in with the flow of migrants, more attention needs to be given to illegals who mask their countries of origin. Some of the Arabic, Pashtun, and Farsi speakers infiltrating the U.S. from Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Afghanistan, and countries in Southeast Asia and North Africa are terrorists. In the past year, one of them reached Canada and waged a terror attack in Edmonton.

Although it is unknown to what extent counter-smuggling operations have been successful, there have been prosecutions.  Recently, an SIA smuggling Yemenis across the Texan border was arrested, and prior to that a smuggler was caught bringing in at least 100 Pakistanis across the southern border.  Whether or not these aliens had terrorist connections is unknown, but more muscular policies are necessary to stanch the flow by means of counter-smuggling interdictions, border walls, a national vetting center, and asylum fraud detection. While a surge of immigration judges is easing the backlog of cases at the border, these efforts are primarily focused on Spanish speaking migrants.  SIAs are a distinct subset of aliens illegally entering the U.S. who have the potential to create a terrorist scenario resembling what has been seen in Europe-- a threat that has not been given adequate attention by policymakers.
Islamist terror cells within the U.S.
An interview with Ryan Mauro - Domestically-based Islamist cults

mauro.jpgRyan Mauro is the Clarion Project’s Shillman Fellow and National Security Analyst. A professor of homeland security, counter-terrorism and political science, he is a consultant to government agencies and policy-makers. Originally hired as an international security analyst at age 16 for a maritime protection company, Mauro’s research led to two speaking engagements at the prestigious International Intelligence Summit. The event’s material, including Mauro’s bio, was found inside Osama bin Laden’s Pakistan compound.
The Clarion Project focuses on stopping the threat of Islamic extremism through its research, education and activism, and by its support of Muslim reformers who fight Islamism.  The distinction between Islam and Islamism is that Islamists advance a political doctrine of sharia, through non-violent or violent means, as a form of governance that is incompatible with the U.S. Constitution and American values. There are movements and cults within the U.S., many of them Islamist, that plan attacks and seek to overthrow the U.S. government.

A recent bizarre case involved a group of relatives of radical imam Siraj Wahaj, listed by prosecutors as a possible unindicted co-conspirator in the 1992 World Trade Center Tower bombing, that formed an Islamic cult in New Mexico. Wahaj’s grandson, a disabled toddler living with his mother, had been abducted by Wahaj’s son, the child’s father, who believed the boy was possessed by demons, a popular belief in Islam. Insistent that medicating the toddler to keep him alive demonstrated a lack of faith, Wahaj’s son and the cult followers planned on performing an Islamic exorcism. By the time authorities traced Wahaj’s grandson to the cult’s New Mexico compound, the toddler, deprived of his medications, had died. The cult members believed the child would be resurrected to reveal targets for attacks. It is also known that children on the compound were being trained to commit school shootings in anticipation of the cult’s apocalyptic prophecies.

Furthering public outrage, the judge in the case, citing a lack of evidence by the prosecution, ruled that cult members posed no threat to the community and ordered their release on a signature bond which carried a $20,000 penalty if they failed to appear for trial. Although the judge also ordered ankle bracelets and house arrest, both have proven ineffective in reducing flight risks in similar situations. Fortunately, additional charges were filed against the five adults to prevent their release.

While different cults have similarly planned violent actions based on claims that they are fulfilling prophecies, the media have shown a double standard when reporting on Islamist cults. Another Islamist cult, Jamaat al Fuqra, has established 22 Islamic villages across the U.S. Now known as Muslims of the Americas, the group has proven popular with the African-American prison convert community since the 1980s. The cult follows a Pakistani leader, Sheikh Gulani, who lives lavishly while his followers live in poverty. 

It is reasonable to expect that in the future, other groups will employ similar strategies in order to build an infrastructure and generate funds, either by conducting criminal activities like welfare and food stamp fraud, or by indoctrinating followers to believe that poverty brings them closer to Allah. Group members who are willing to impoverish themselves to prove their faith hand over a percentage of earned wages to unscrupulous and deranged cult leaders who hide evidence of their activities from law enforcement. 

The New Mexico case provides insight into the mentality of cult members who kept children malnourished in their belief that such deprivation was a proof of faith.  The Wahaj cult is one unfortunate example of a leader interpreting fiqh, Islamic doctrine, at the expense of his followers.

Summary accounts by Marilyn Stern, Communications Coordinator for the Middle East Forum