Thursday, June 30, 2005

Two Iraqis who paid alien smugglers in Mexico to help them gain illegal entry to the United States were arrested yesterday by Mexican authorities in a border town near San Diego.

The Mexican Attorney General’s Office said Samir Yousif Shana and Munir Yousif Shana were taken into custody by Mexican federal agents, along with two suspected alien smugglers, in the Paso del Aguila district of Tecate, some 30 miles east of San Diego.

The Iraqis, according to a statement, had made contact with the smugglers in Tijuana, located south of San Diego, who then accompanied them by bus to Tecate.

Mexican authorities said investigators were told the Iraqis had been advised by an unidentified person in Baghdad that he could arrange for them to be smuggled across the U.S. border once they got to Mexico.

The Baghdad smuggler demonstrates that the porousness of the U.S.-Mexico border is becoming “common knowledge” on the Arab street, one U.S. law-enforcement official said yesterday.

U.S. national security officials have fretted often in the past about the Mexican border being an attractive conduit for Islamic terrorists.

The statement from the Mexican Attorney General’s Office said the Iraqis have family members who live in the San Diego area.

A spokesman for the attorney general’s office said the two men had no known connection to terrorists and, at this point, faced “absolutely nothing more than charges of being unable to prove they were in Mexican territory legally.”

The U.S. Border Patrol has reported a rise in the number of foreign nationals from countries other than Mexico now being detained along the U.S.-Mexico border, where more than 1.15 million illegal aliens were apprehended last year, although none have been identified as having ties to Islamic terrorist organizations.

But Adm. James Loy, former Department of Homeland Security deputy secretary, told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in February that “recent information from ongoing investigations, detentions and emerging threat streams strongly suggests that al Qaeda has considered using the southwestern border to infiltrate the United States.”

Adm. Loy testified that al Qaeda operatives believe they can pay to get into the country through Mexico and that entering illegally was “more advantageous than legal entry.”

He also said the international street gang Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, was an emerging national security threat and suggested that al Qaeda terrorists may have targeted the gang’s illegal-alien smuggling operations to gain entry to this country.

In September, The Washington Times reported that a top al Qaeda lieutenant had met with MS-13 to seek help infiltrating the U.S.-Mexico border. Authorities said at the time that Adnan G. El Shukrijumah, a key al Qaeda cell leader for whom the U.S. government has offered a $5 million reward, was spotted in July in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, with MS-13 leaders.

MS-13 is thought to have established a major smuggling center in Matamoros, Mexico, just south of Brownsville, Texas, from where it has arranged to bring illegal aliens from countries other than Mexico into the United States. In August, an FBI alert described El Shukrijumah as “armed and dangerous” and a major threat to homeland security.

The September 11 commission, which called for the hiring of 2,000 new Border Patrol agents in each of the next five years to beef up security along America’s borders with Mexico and Canada, also noted that migrants from countries other than Mexico posed a security risk at the borders.

The commission said terrorists can easily blend in with the thousands of Mexican nationals who cross the U.S. border surreptitiously every day.

Immigration reform advocates, including Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, have been concerned about the possibility that Iraqis and foreign nationals from countries that sponsor terrorism could be targeting America’s southern border to gain entry to the United States.

Mr. Tancredo recently said government reports show a 50 percent increase in the foreign nationals identified as other than Mexican crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. He said some illegals from nations identified as state sponsors of terrorism were paying as much as $50,000 to be smuggled into the United States.

“They’re not paying that kind of money simply to work at a 7-11,” he said.

In April, four Iraqis were detained at an airport in the border city of Mexicali for carrying false passports and two more were apprehended at a highway checkpoint. Mexicali is across the U.S.-Mexico border from Calexico, Calif.

Officials at the Attorney General’s Office in the Mexican state of Baja California said at the time the four had arrived in Mexicali on a flight from Mexico City and were detained after they were discovered to have phony Dutch passports.

The men, who were not identified as terrorists, were named on Mexican federal charges of using false documents.

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