Federal agents broke up an ISIS-led plot to assassinate former President George W. Bush in retaliation for the deaths of Iraqis during the U.S. invasion, authorities announced Tuesday.
Shihab Ahmed Shihab Shihab scouted the Texas neighborhood where Mr. Bush lives and looked into buying firearms and U.S. Border Patrol uniforms as part of his plot, figuring he would smuggle an Islamic State hit team into the U.S. to carry out the assassination, prosecutors said.
Mr. Shihab was living in the U.S. through immigration fraud. He came to the U.S. on a visitor’s visa that he obtained from a “corrupt” contractor at a U.S. Embassy. He then lodged an asylum claim, the FBI said.
Special Agent John Ypsilantis said in court filings that Mr. Shihab told sources cooperating with the FBI that he was working with an organization that included former loyalists of Saddam Hussein. They felt Mr. Bush “was responsible for killing many Iraqis and breaking apart the entire country of Iraq,” he said.
As president, Mr. Bush oversaw the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Members of the hit team were prepared to die in the assassination attempt, said Mr. Ypsilantis, citing conversations between Mr. Shihab and the cooperating sources.
Mr. Shihab also wanted to be involved in carrying out the hit, but he said his group’s leadership told him to handle logistics and surveillance but leave the killing to the team.
His use of the immigration system sent shock waves through the debate about border security. Experts said they had been warning about this type of vulnerability.
“This is what keeps me up at night. I fear what devastating result will finally be enough to get the Biden administration’s attention on the crisis it created at our border,” said Rep. John Katko of New York, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee.
Agents from the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force arrested Mr. Shihab on Tuesday morning in Ohio. Mr. Shihab had his first court appearance in the afternoon.
Prosecutors said Mr. Shihab faces charges of aiding a plot to assassinate Mr. Bush and trying to smuggle people into the U.S.
When FBI agents confronted Mr. Shihab in April, he said he was trying to help smuggle an Iraqi person into the U.S., but he omitted part of his role. He also concealed the plot to assassinate the former president, Mr. Ypsilantis said.
Mr. Shihab’s abuse of the immigration system began when he entered the United States in September 2020 on a travel visa. He told the cooperating sources that a corrupt embassy contractor helped him obtain the visa.
In March 2021, he lodged an asylum claim. He had an interview this year with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in support of that claim.
Along the way, he became worried that his application would fail. He paid for fake divorce papers from Iraq and plotted to arrange a bogus marriage to a U.S. citizen to solidify his position in the country, the FBI said.
Mr. Shihab supported himself by working at restaurants and markets in Indiana and Ohio, Mr. Ypsilantis said.
Mr. Shihab also showed some sophisticated knowledge about sneaking people from the Middle East into the U.S. He said they would need to travel to Brazil and make their way north to the U.S.-Mexico border.
That is the route followed by Middle Eastern migrants whose backgrounds would raise terrorism concerns if they flew directly into Mexico.
Mr. Shihab at one point bragged to one of the FBI’s sources about having smuggled two figures from Hezbollah into the U.S. and charged them $50,000 each.
Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said authorities need to get to the bottom of those claims. He said he feared bad actors may have used President Biden’s chaotic airlift of Afghans last year to insert other enemy agents.
“The news of this alleged ISIS operative roaming freely in our community only reinforces the need to get our system in order,” Mr. Portman said.
Mr. Shihab told the government’s sources that he was working with members of the Islamic State, or ISIS, and a group he called “Al-Raed,” which the FBI said translates as “Thunder.” Al-Raed was established after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Mr. Shihab said.
According to authorities, Mr. Shihab told one source at a meeting in January that the leader of his unit was Arshad Yassim, a pilot for Saddam who recently died in Qatar. The FBI said it confirmed that Yassim was a bodyguard, that he was a relative of the Iraqi dictator and that he died in Qatar on Jan. 12.
Al-Raed’s new leader figured the mission to kill Mr. Bush would cost $3 million, Mr. Shihab said.
During a February meeting in Dallas with one of the FBI’s sources, a smuggler who has been cooperating with the government for 10 years, Mr. Shahib used a cellphone to record the approach to the former president’s gated neighborhood.
In a meeting in Columbus, Ohio, in March, Mr. Shahib looked over firearms his hit team might use and asked about getting a grenade launcher attachment for an M-16 rifle. He also was shown a Border Patrol uniform and said it was perfect for helping smuggle people across the border, the FBI affidavit said.