Two refugees from Somalia were arrested as they prepared to board a flight from Arizona to Egypt, where they planned to join the Islamic State, federal authorities announced Monday.
The men were arrested Friday, after months of planning that they shared with an undercover FBI employee, according to the criminal complaint filed against them in federal court in Tucson.
Authorities said Ahmed Mahad Mohamed, 21, and Abdi Yemani Hussein, 20, both entered the U.S. as refugees from war-torn Somalia, though Mr. Mohamed had earned a green card. Mr. Hussein was still in the U.S. on refugee status.
It’s not clear when the men entered, but their arrest on terrorism charges could further dent the refugee program, which President Trump, citing security risks among other reasons, has dramatically scaled back from the Obama years.
Mr. Hussein, who according to court documents dubbed himself Abu Jihad, had suggested blowing up the White House, while Mr. Mohamed said the two men wanted to become the most wanted terrorists in the world. He said he wanted to be the “beheading guy.”
Authorities said they were tipped to the two men last August, when Mr. Mohamed reached out to a covert FBI employee online and said he was ready to ready for jihad. He said his parents wouldn’t have approved, so he had to keep his desires secret.
Mr. Mohamed was passed off to an undercover FBI employee and they talked about his desire to be involved in attacks. Eventually Mr. Mohamed brought Mr. Hussein to one of their in-person meetings, and they talked about obtaining travel documents to reach the Middle East.
They concocted false stories to tell U.S. officials about their reasons for travel, inventing the pretext of a wedding, and bought roundtrip tickets from Tucson to Cairo. They were arrested as they approached the gate to board their plane.
They are charged with conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.
During this decade the U.S. has taken in nearly 53,000 refugees from Somalia. the number peaked in 2016, the last full year of the Obama administration, as part of a refugee surge.
President Obama had said the U.S. had a duty to boost its refugee resettlement, particularly of those from majority-Muslim nations. He said refugees were among the most-vetted migrants the U.S. allowed to enter.
Mr. Trump won the 2016 election in part on a vow to toughen refugee standards.
Last year the U.S. accepted just 257 Somali refugees.