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Budd Leads 21 Senators to Demand Answers After Suspected ISIS Terrorists at Southern Border Were Released Into U.S.

Washington, D.C. — Today, Senator Ted Budd (R-NC) led a group of 21 Senators to send a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas demanding answers after individuals with suspected ties to ISIS were apprehended at the southern border, underwent vetting, and were then released into the United States. 

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) recently arrested these individuals after one was reportedly caught on a wiretap talking about bombs.

Senator Budd said in a statement:

“President Biden is derelict in his duty to protect and defend our country. These incidents highlight the extreme national security risks posed by the open southern border. We need to expose what happened here, and make sure it never happens again. We need to secure the border and stop the chaos.”

The letter was co-signed by Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), John Thune (R-SD), John Cornyn (R-TX), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Steve Daines (R-MT), Tim Scott (R-SC), JD Vance (R-OH), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Rick Scott (R-FL), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Mike Lee (R-UT), Roger Marshall (R-KS), John Hoeven (R-ND), John Kennedy (R-LA), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Todd Young (R-IN), Eric Schmitt (R-MO), Pete Ricketts (R-NE).

Full text of the letter:

We write to express our grave concerns regarding reports of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests of eight individuals from Tajikistan suspected to have terror ties to ISIS who crossed the southern border to enter the U.S. last year and this year.  Reportedly, two of these individuals crossed the border in spring 2023, and one of them used the CBP One app to enter the U.S.  We are deeply concerned by reports that a wiretap shows that one of the now-arrested individuals was talking about bombs and that the target of the wiretap was previously released by federal authorities at the southern border with a court date of next year.  We are further concerned by reports that federal authorities vetting these individuals upon entry into the U.S. did not detect any ties to ISIS at the time and only discovered these ties “[l]ater and in recent weeks.”

As Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray recently testified to Congress, “Now increasingly concerning is the potential for a coordinated attack here in the homeland, akin to the ISIS-K attack we saw at the Russia concert hall a couple weeks ago,” in reference to ISIS-Khorasan, that is, ISIS’s Afghan affiliate. Director Wray also testified in March that the FBI is “very concerned” about a “smuggling network” with “overseas facilitators” that “have ISIS ties.” Additionally, it was reported last August that the FBI was investigating, as possible criminal threats, more than a dozen illegal aliens from Uzbekistan and other countries who traveled to the U.S. with the help of a smuggler with ties to ISIS. 

There have been multiple recent releases of aliens on the terrorist watchlist into the United States, such as Afghan national Mohammad Kharwin, a suspected member of the U.S.-designated terrorist group Hezb-e-Islami, or HIG, who was arrested on March 10, 2023, in California, after crossing the southern border illegally, and briefly enrolled in an Alternatives to Detention monitoring program for about two weeks. He was allowed to roam free in the U.S. for ten months, unmonitored, until ICE agents arrested him again due to potential terrorist ties. Additionally, a 27-year old Somalian who was on the watchlist as “a confirmed member” of U.S.-designated terrorist organization Al-Shabaab, who was involved in the use, manufacture, or transportation of explosives or firearms, was released shortly after being arrested for crossing the border illegally in California in March 2023, and roamed free for nearly a year before he was captured in Minnesota. On April 17, ICE arrested Jovokhir Attoev of Uzbekistan for alleged ISIS ties.   Attoev had crossed the southern border into Arizona in February 2022, and was arrested by Border Patrol but was released into the U.S. when Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and ICE failed to find derogatory information about him. However, in May 2023, the government of Uzbekistan issued an international notice that Attoev was wanted for ISIS ties, which U.S. officials failed to discover until March of this year.   Most recently, on May 3, two Jordanian nationals posing as Amazon subcontractors attempted to breach Marine Corps Base Quantico.   One of these individuals had been admitted into the U.S. on a student visa September 11, 2022, which expired January 14, 2023.   The other was arrested on April 8, in California after entering the U.S. illegally, ordered to appear before an immigration judge on April 9, and released on his own recognizance.   According to multiple sources, one of these two Jordanians is on the U.S. terrorist watch list.

Moreover, there are skyrocketing U.S. Border Patrol encounters of aliens on the terrorist watchlist as well as a record number of Chinese national encounters at the southern border during the Biden administration. In fiscal years 2017 to 2020 combined, 11 noncitizens on the terrorist watchlist were caught attempting to enter via the Southern border between ports of entry. That number increased to 15 in FY 2021, 98 in FY 2022, 169 in FY 2023, and 80 in FY 2024 as of May 15. 

Lastly, in April, you were asked in a hearing whether individuals on the terror watchlist were “at large” or whether they had been apprehended. You refused to answer directly and only said they are a “priority for detention.” However, in a November 2023 hearing, Director Wray admitted in a hearing, “There are certainly individuals who are the subject of terrorism investigations that we are searching for.” 

Due to the grave nature of these threats to the American public, we request that the Department of Homeland Security brief the undersigned senators or their staff and respond to the following questions by June 25, 2024.

  1. What are the names and identities of the arrested individuals?    
  2. When and where did they enter the U.S. and for what purpose?  Did they present themselves at a port of entry or enter between the ports of entry?  
  3. Did these arrested individuals claim asylum when they entered the U.S.?  If so, how was their asylum claim resolved?  
  4. What was the vetting process for these arrested individuals when they entered the U.S.?  Did the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have information indicating that these arrested individuals posed a criminal or national security threat when they entered the U.S.?  Did DHS accidentally release them into the U.S.?
  5. Are these arrested individuals members of ISIS or another terrorist organization?    
  6. Are these arrested individuals part of a broader network inside the U.S.?
  7. Were these arrested individuals planning a terrorist attack or taking actions in preparation for a terrorist attack?
  8. Do these arrested individuals possess weapons, explosives, or other dangerous items, or other items that could be used to plan or conduct a terrorist attack?

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