Why Terrorists Don't Need the Migrant Caravan to Enter America
By Sylvia Longmire
Columnist, In Homeland Security
On Oct. 22, U.S. President Donald Trump took to Twitter and said about the approaching migrant caravan from Honduras, “Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in. I have alerted Border Patrol and Military that this is a National Emergy [sic]. Must change laws!” Later in remarks to reporters he said, “Go into the middle of the caravan, take your cameras and search. Okay? Search. . . . You’re going to find MS-13, you’re going to find Middle Eastern, you’re going to find everything.” However, the President has since acknowledged there is no evidence to support these claims. It also makes no sense.
Some ‘Stuff’ Found In Caravans Is Often Lost in Translation
Back in 2005, US politicians were telling the media that they had fears terrorists were slipping across the Southwest border. CBS reported that there was no credible evidence at the time that this had happened, but Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo from Colorado said, “We’ve found copies of the Koran, we have found prayer rugs, we have found a lot of stuff written in Arabic, so it’s not just people from Mexico coming across that border.” After some analysis was done, it turns out that the suspected Quran was actually a book written by an Iranian author in 1972, the prayer rug was actually a soccer jersey, and the “stuff written in Arabic” wasn’t Arabic at all.
The Dirty Bomb Fear
The fear of a dirty bomb being smuggled across the border from Mexico has also proliferated for over a decade. In April 2017, the Mexican government placed nine states on high alert after radioactive material capable of creating a dirty bomb was stolen near the outskirts of Guatemala. In 2013 carjackers unknowingly stole cobalt-60 from a truck fitted with a radiotherapy machine used for cancer treatment. That material was later recovered, and these thefts are usually unintentional as thieves are interested in other items.
State Department And Trump Differ On Caravan
There’s also fact that this hasn’t happened yet. Trump’s own State Department, in a report issued in July 2017, found “no credible information that any member of a terrorist group has traveled through Mexico to gain access to the United States.” On October 23, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spokesman Tyler Houlton tweeted, “.@DHSgov can confirm that there are individuals within the caravan who are gang members or have significant criminal histories.” Yet, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at a briefing October 23, “From a security standpoint, there is no proper accounting of who these individuals in the caravan are,” which seems to contradict DHS and their apparent knowledge of who at least some of them are.
Most Terrorists Arrive With Clean Backgrounds – At Airports
Aside from all of this, few observers seem to be taking into account how known terrorists have actually entered the United States in the past, or the obstacles posed to those who wish to enter by transiting through Mexico and across the U.S. border. Historically speaking, terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS have sent people into the U.S. with no criminal history and clean background checks so they will have no problems flying into a U.S. airport. Even more so in the case of ISIS, they radicalize Muslims already living in the United States, and in many cases those who are either U.S. residents or U.S.-born citizens.
The Physical Risks Of Migrant Caravans
Assuming that Middle Eastern terrorists are part of the caravan greatly underestimates the physical risk of this poses to a high-value operative undertaking the journey. First, it is in Mexico’s best interest to prevent a Middle Eastern terrorist from transiting through its country. This would greatly damage U.S.-Mexico relations even further, and could have a significantly negative impact on cross-border trade if an attack were to result from this transit. Second, such a journey on foot could be fatal and there is zero guarantee that Middle Eastern terrorists would reach the Southwest border, let alone get across it without detection.
Why Would A Terrorist Group Choose Land Over Air?
While the caravan is a mass of thousands of people from several different countries, they know who their partners in travel are. Everyone looks ethnically the same and everyone speaks Spanish. A Middle Eastern terrorist who didn’t speak Spanish or know central American customs would stick out like a sore thumb. Contrary to the beliefs of some, those in the caravan are most likely averse to having a Middle Eastern terrorist in their midst. Then there is the simple question of why a terrorist group would have one or several valued operatives suffer through a 2000-mile journey through hostile territory on foot when they can simply give them a passport to fly comfortably into a U.S. airport.
Evidence Is Needed
It’s true that the U.S.-Mexico border is porous and hundreds of thousands of people cross it without detection every year. However, the fact remains that no evidence exists to support the theory that Middle Eastern terrorists are using the border as a way to enter the United States and carry out terrorist attack planning or operations. As such, there is no reason to believe that there are currently members of Al Qaeda or ISIS or other terrorist groups in the current caravan approaching the United States.