President Barack Obama offered assurances this week that Syrian refugees coming into the United States would be thoroughly vetted to ensure they were not involved with terrorism — even though this year multiple terrorism charges were brought against immigrants and refugees across the country who had at one point made it through government vetting to become U.S. citizens, legal residents or attain refugee status.
“As president, my first priority is the safety of the American people and that’s why, even as we accept more refugees — including Syrians — we do so only after subjecting them to rigorous screening and security checks,” Obama said Monday in Turkey, wrapping up the G-20 meeting. “We also have to remember that many of these refugees are the victims of terrorism themselves — that’s what they’re fleeing. Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values.”
Refugees leave Glasgow Airport on buses after the first of a series of charter flights carrying refugees arrived Tuesday in Glasgow, Scotland. The refugees are from camps in Lebanon, Jordan and other countries near Syria; 20,000 refugees will be resettled in the U.K. by 2020, with 1,000 due to arrive in the U.K. by Christmas 2015. (Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
Obama set the overall refugee ceiling at 85,000 for fiscal year 2016 and announced the administration will admit another 10,000 refugees from Syria in the coming year. After the Islamic State terrorist attack in Paris Friday, authorities believe at least one of the terrorists entered the country as a refugee.
A House Judiciary subcommittee will hold a hearing Thursday to investigate the security issues of admitting refugees.
“Top national security officials within the Obama administration have repeatedly warned that the U.S. government does not have the resources and dramatically lacks the information needed to fully vet refugees from Syria,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) in a statement. “ISIS also has vowed to use the refugee system to enter Western countries. Despite these warnings and the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, President Obama continues to move forward with his plan to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees into the United States over the coming year.”
In 2014 and 2015, federal authorities charged 58 people, mostly immigrants who became U.S. citizens in their early 20s, for alleged support or ties to the Islamic State, the Newark Star Ledger reported.
Here are 10 major terrorism cases brought against refugees and legal immigrants in 2015:
1. Syrian-American Aims for Military Base or Prison
Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud, a Syrian immigrant who became a U.S. citizen, was charged with planning to go to a Texas military base and kill American soldiers execution style, or commit a crime at a prison. He reportedly trained with a terrorist group in Syria and said he wanted to "attack a military facility or a prison in the United States," the New York Times reported.
The indictment said, “Mohamud talked about doing something big in the United States. He wanted to go to a military base in Texas and kill three or four American soldiers execution style.”
He allegedly trained with terrorists in Syria, but a cleric in Syria told Mohamud he should return to the United States and “carry out an act of terrorism,” according to the indictment.
2. New York Bomb Plot
Two Pakistani immigrants who received U.S citizenship were sentenced to decades-long prison sentences for plotting to detonate a bomb in New York. Raees Qazi and Sheheryar Qazi pleaded guilty in March and were sentenced in June to 35 years and 20 years respectively.
3. Chattanooga Attack
A Kuwaiti immigrant brought here by his family at a young age who became a citizen, Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez, carried out an attack this summer at a military recruiting center that killed four military personnel in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in July. He was killed the day of the shooting.
Abdulazeez was reportedly not in the U.S. database of suspected terrorists, but law enforcement believed he might have traveled to the Middle East in recent years.
4. Social Media Backing
In June, Ali Shukri Amin, a Sudanese immigrant who became a U.S. citizen, pleaded guilty to providing material support for the Islamic State. Recruited online, Amin, a resident of Manassas, Virginia, was a high school student who ran a pro-Islamic State Twitter account.
5. Bosnian Conspiracies
A Bosnian refugee couple was charged with donating money, supplies and smuggled arms to terrorist organizations in Syria and Iraq. In February, the couple, Ramiz Zijad Hodzic and Sedina Unkic Hodzic, pleaded not guilty in federal court in St. Louis.
They were among six Bosnian immigrants living in Missouri, Illinois and New York who were charged with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorist organizations, including the Islamic State and the Nusra Front, an Al Qaeda affiliate. The Justice Department accused the couple of using Facebook, PayPal, Western Union and the U.S. Postal Service to coordinate the shipping of money and military equipment.
6. Machine Gun for Travel
In a case of three men prosecutors say were plotting to help the Islamic State, a Kazakhstani immigrant with lawful permanent resident status, Akhror Saidakhmetov, allegedly planned to buy a machine gun to shoot FBI and other law enforcement agents if they tried to prevent him from traveling to Syria to join the Islamic State.
He allegedly conspired with two citizens of Uzbekistan, Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev and Abror Habibov. Federal prosecutors said the three men pledged their allegiance to the Islamic State on Internet forums.
7. Propane Tank Bomb Plot
A Saudi Arabian immigrant with U.S. citizenship allegedly swore allegiance to the Islamic State and allegedly planned to explode a propane tank bomb in the United States, according to prosecutors.
During a sting operation at the home of Noelle Velentzas, 27, and Asia Siddiqui, 31, in New York, officers found three gas tanks, a pressure cooker, fertilizer, handwritten notes on recipes for bomb making and jihadist literature.
Siddiqui was born in Saudi Arabia but had U.S. citizenship. Federal prosecutors said she had a close relationship with Samir Khan, an American who actually became an al Qaeda leader in Yemen.
8. University and Court House
In April, El Mehdi Semlali Fathi, a Moroccan national who had come to the United States on student visa, which had since expired, was charged in Bridgeport, Connecticut, with plotting to blow up buildings at an unnamed university outside the state of Connecticut and a federal courthouse in Connecticut.
The FBI secretly recorded him talking about pliers, a cutter and wires in his home that he said were the materials for a bomb.
“Fathi stated in the recording that he would use airplanes, possibly toy planes to execute the bombing,” Special Agent Anabela Sharp said, according to ABC News. “Specifically, Fathi stated that he was going to use a plane, a remote-controlled hobby-type airplane, to deliver the bomb.”
9. Lying to the FBI
An Iraqi immigrant, Bilal Abood, who received U.S. citizenship, was arrested in May in Texas by the FBI for lying to federal agents about pledging allegiance to the Islamic State and his travels to Syria.
The FBI examined his computer and found that in June he wrote on Twitter, “I pledge obedience to the Caliphate Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.”
10. Raising Funds to Join the Islamic State
An Uzbek man in New York, Dilkhayot Kasimov, was charged in April with trying to encourage other Uzbekis to engage in terrorism and to raise money for terrorist groups abroad.
A government informant said that Kasimov sought to encourage others to join the Islamic State, and others involved purchased tickets to travel to Turkey. From there, they planned to slip into Syria and enlist, according to prosecutors. They raised $1,600 from several people.