Wednesday, February 1, 2006

News this week of the arrest of four Iraqis in Mexico on their way to the U.S. border is cause for concern. The good news is that the Iraqis themselves appear to be harmless. Mexican authorities have found no connection to terrorism and there are reports that they could in fact be part of Iraq’s Christian minority. But their attempt to illegally gain entry into the United States by way of Mexico undermines the false hope that terrorists wouldn’t try to do the same.

In his otherwise excellent book, “Disinformation,” which the editorial board recently excerpted on the op-ed page, Richard Miniter tries to discredit the idea that terrorists view the southern border as a likely entry point. He gives credence to the notion that the cultural and political conditions in Latin America are inhospitable to Islamists. As opposed to liberal Canada, where a self-destructive strain of multiculturalism holds considerable sway, the predominant Christian nature of Latin Americans allows for few Islamist sympathizers. Mr. Miniter cites a 2003 Federal Research Division report that found “not a single case of al Qaeda activity in Mexico or of an al Qaeda operative crossing the border into the U.S. from Mexico.”

Yet recent history tells a much more complicated story. In October 2001, for instance, an Iraqi-born smuggler named George Tajirian pleaded guilty to colluding with a corrupt Mexican immigrant official, Angel Salvador Molina-Paramo, in a human smuggling operation which brought more than 1,000 Middle Easterners into the United States illegally. Federal prosecutors said Tajirian and Molina-Paramo successfully smuggled Palestinians, Jordanians, Syrians, Iraqis and Yemenis, as well as “persons with known ties to subversive or terrorist organizations as well as individuals with known criminal records,” according to the New York Times. Also in 2003, another corrupt Mexican official, Imelda Ortiz Abdala, stationed at the Mexican consulate in Lebanon, was arrested for operating a similar smuggling ring. One individual she provided a Mexican visa for was Al Afani Sghir, an alleged Shi’ite extremist.

None of this should come as much of a surprise. Smugglers operate under their own motives, which in this case is money. Whatever incompatibility exists between Latin American culture and Islamofascism, an opportunist like Tajirian would probably not refuse terrorist money. In fact, he probably would never know it was terrorist money. Nor would a terrorist refuse a ride to the U.S. border by a Mexican Christian, if his motive is to attack the United States.

Washington cannot act under the assumption that because no terrorist has been found crossing the southern border, that one never would. If we can assume that our airline security has been on the whole effective, then terrorists intent on entering the country would surely find the porous Mexican border an attractive alternative. Besides, a terrorist trying to get through customs leaves a paper trail, while one swimming the Rio Grande enters the country as a ghost.

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