President Trump’s first steps to secure the U.S. borders as he promised during his run for the presidency have been greeted by protest, demonstrations, and outrage. Yet the record has been clear for years that our country is at grave risk, not only from those who cross our porous borders to do us harm, but also from those who have turned a blind eye and refuse to see what has been occurring at the U.S.-Mexico border.
In August 2014, Judicial Watch (J.W.) broke the story that Islamic terrorist groups, including ISIS and al-Qaeda, were operating in the Mexican border city, Juarez, and planning attacks against the United States and that Fort Bliss, the El Paso Army installation, was beefing up base security. Remarkably, the Department of Homeland Security failed to respond to the story itself and to direct inquiries from conservative, non-partisan Judicial Watch.
A few years earlier, at an El Paso meeting with border city mayors, DHS chief Janet Napolitano stated, “There is a perception that the border is worse now than it ever has been.”
In a reproach to public concerns about cross-border terrorist activity and Republican opposition to the Obama administration’s lax border and illegal immigration policies, she asserted, “That is wrong. The border is better now than it ever has been.”
Clearly, it was politically inconvenient for Napolitano to admit that the southern border was compromised, serving as the nexus of drug cartels that control businesses worth hundreds of billions of dollars and of Islamic terrorist group operatives, as cogently detailed by Judicial Watch investigations.
Adding their voices to the politically correct chorus on border security were FBI director James Comey and Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke (D). In 2015, Comey responded to J.W.’s report by proclaiming it “nonsense.” He took a swipe at the government watchdog by complaining about the inconvenience it posed to his staff to chase down spurious charges. Congressman O’Rourke’s comments arose from his background as a former El Paso city councilman, known for his boosterism of neighboring Juarez, Mexico, who had attempted to stop the Minuteman Project – a citizen effort dedicated to patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border – and had sponsored a resolution asking the federal government to end the prohibition of illegal drugs. Not surprisingly, O’Rourke responded to border security concerns with “[t]here has never been a terrorist organization or terrorist plot that has successfully entered this country through the southern border.”
The pushback from the FBI and other government officials was surprising, especially at a time when there were anti-ISIS investigations in all 50 states. According to a study from George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, “As of the fall of 2015, U.S. authorities speak of some 250 Americans who have traveled or attempted to travel to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State (ISIS) and 900 active investigations against ISIS sympathizers in all 50 states.”
A recently released report from the Texas Department of Public Safety in collaboration with other law enforcement and homeland security agencies confirms terrorist infiltration across the U.S.-Mexico border. It cites examples of jihadists who have crossed the border since 2012, including several who have used the opportunity to attempt travel to Syria to join ISIS.
In “The Sun City Cell,” a film produced by Judicial Watch in collaboration with Blaze TV, former military intelligence officer Chris Farrell exposes the fallacy of such denials as he reveals the underbelly of life at the southern border: an extensive narco-terrorist network with ties to cartels, gangs, jihadist groups, law enforcement, and politicians vying for money and power. Farrell has investigated the region for four years and conducted extensive interviews with law enforcement, government officials, civilians, and even sources with direct contact with cartel members. He reveals how unpatrolled remote farm roads, unguarded border areas, unsecured private airstrips, and hundreds of sanctuary cities amount to a border-jumper’s dream and an open invitation to criminals and terrorists.
Farrell, who currently serves as director of research and investigations for Judicial Watch, explains how the Juarez-El Paso corridor is a secure route for smuggling all kinds of contraband – money, drugs, people, weapons – with the express assistance of corrupt and incompetent government officials on both sides of the border. He describes how border-crossers can easily acquire new identities replete with fake documents and obtain training in language, culture, reconnaissance, and terrorist tactics. A symbiotic win-win relationship between the cartels and Islamists offers mutual assistance with counterfeiting expertise, drug-harvesting techniques, smuggling operations, and guerrilla warfare training.
According to Farrell and his informants, Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas, the second largest binational metropolitan area on the Mexico-U.S. border, are inextricably linked cartel-run cities. They inhabit opposite sides of the Rio Grande and are connected by four international ports. Juarez, situated on the Mexico-U.S. border just south of El Paso with a population of 1.5 million, has been billed as “the world’s most violent city.” It is home to over 300 maquiladora manufacturing or export assembly plants employing over 250,000 workers, which means constant cross-border traffic, not all of it legitimate.
In direct contrast, El Paso, a city of 700,000, often referred to as “the safest city in America,” is an air, truck, and rail hub for commercial traffic. Its low crime rates belie the overriding presence and influence of the cartels. According to informants, the cartels control law enforcement and government officials and won’t tolerate any openly unlawful activity by its associates that could disrupt business in what is considered its operational base in the U.S.
According to an El Paso Metropolitan Planning Organization report, in 2007, there were close to 23 million crossings by pedestrians, commuters, and commercial trucks between Juarez and El Paso. With the constant movement of people and goods back and forth, the area presents great opportunities for moving contraband, money, and people across the border.
The extent of the threat is exemplified by thwarted Chicago-area terrorist attacks planned by two wanted senior-level al-Qaeda officers who entered the U.S. from Juarez in 2009. According to Judicial Watch, Adnan el Shukrijuma, a commercial pilot and explosives expert billed as al-Qaeda’s #2 and “the next Mohammed Atta,” and Jaber Elbaneh, an associate of the Lackawanna Six terrorist cell that trained with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, easily entered the U.S. by avoiding established border crossings altogether. They flew unhindered from Juarez, Mexico to the Cielo Dorado Estates Airport, a private airfield eight miles across the border, a short distance from El Paso, Texas.
Once in El Paso, the pair met with Emad Karakrah, an ISIS operative and transportation and logistics expert involved in smuggling operations for the cartel, and Hector Pedroza Huerta, his longtime associate and an illegal alien with multiple arrests for intoxicated driving, to identify potential terrorist targets inside the United States. Together, they planned to attack Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Studios and the Sears Tower in Chicago.
After renting a U-Haul trailer and purchasing a step van, they acquired Tannerite, a binary explosive, legal for purchase in all 50 states and used for exploding targets in firearms practice, and C-4, a malleable plastic explosive used by the U.S. Armed Forces and acquired through access to Fort Bliss in El Paso. Karakrah and Huerta then drove to Chicago, where they were foiled by law enforcement.
Curiously, at the time of Karakrah’s and Huerta’s apprehension, the FBI did not publicize the thwarted attack or release any pertinent information. The perpetrators were remanded to county jails on lesser charges and soon released. Requests for information from the FBI and the Department of Justice went unanswered. It wasn’t until five years later that news of the foiled attack was revealed, when two unrelated arrests brought the situation to light.
On August 28, 2014, Karakrah was arrested in Chicago after leading the police on a high-speed chase while flying an ISIS flag out of the window of his car. When officers attempted to inspect his vehicle, he threatened to detonate an explosive device. A few weeks earlier, Huerta, his partner in crime, was arrested in El Paso for a third DWI.
After their arrests, it was revealed that both men, alleged smugglers of drugs and weapons, had partnered in a plan to commit the Chicago bombings at the behest of two of the FBI’s “most wanted” terrorists: Jaber Elbaneh and Adnan el Shukrijuma. Curiously, neither Karakrah nor Huerta faced federal charges for their respective roles in the failed plots. Remarkably, both men were released from custody in 2015 on plea deals, and their current whereabouts are unknown.
Surprisingly, the attempted bombing received little media attention. Instead of arresting Karakrah in 2009, the FBI enlisted him as a confidential informant. It is speculated that no federal action may have been taken for political reasons, either to maintain Obama’s charade that al-Qaeda had been defeated and that “ISIS is a J.V. team” or to avoid the embarrassment of revealing that people implicated in attacks were cooperating with the government.
In December 2014, Shukrajumah, who had left the country to avoid capture and questioning, was killed by the Pakistan Army. Possibly, as a top al-Qaeda leader and coordinator of terrorist operations wanted by the U.S. government, he represented too great a risk to future al-Qaeda operations.
Clearly, every part of the country is affected by the growing threat posed by cartels, terrorist networks, and criminals who traffic in drugs, humans, weapons, and money. This bad situation deteriorated further under Barack Obama’s lax border and immigration policies and his mandate to reduce the presence and authority of law enforcement and border and customs agencies.
The Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C. reported that under the Obama administration, the number of illegal aliens selected for deportation from the United States declined 34% between FY2011 and FY2013, and criminal arrests declined by 11% from FY2012 to FY2013. In 2012, Obama closed nine border stations: six in Texas and one each in California, Montana, and Idaho.
Fortunately, the days of Mexican drug cartels and terrorists being able to operate with impunity on both sides of the border may be over. In October 2016, presidential candidate Trump said, “I have a message for the drug dealers, for the gang members and the criminal cartels: your days are numbered.”
Hopefully, President Trump’s pledge and his recent executive orders to build a wall on the Mexico-U.S. border, end aid to sanctuary cities, and limit immigration are just the start of efforts to enforce immigration laws, secure the border, and put an end to this grave threat to the homeland.