The Center For Immigration Studies’ Todd Bensman, a senior fellow at the organization that bills itself as “low immigration, pro-immigrant”, has an interesting interview up with Anne Speckhard, the Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine — and, most importantly, the source of the reports about a month ago that ISIS had recruited members to penetrate migration routes to move across the Southern border and into the United States.
Speckhard and a colleague interviewed the operative and found him “really credible” which led them to write a piece Homeland Security Today, which was then picked up by Fox News and others.
Bensman interviewed Speckhard Tuesday and began to wonder about the link between potential ISIS operatives, migration routes into the U.S., and Trinidadian nationals who are recruited by the terror group and know those migration routes well.
The “now-repentant” operative was identified as Abu Henricki, a Canadian with dual Trinidadian citizenship detained by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The captive provided researchers with a 90-minute videotaped interview of his time with ISIS, during which he described how its intelligence division, known as emni, approached several other Trinidadian ISIS operatives in 2016. In turn, they approached him with an infiltration plan hatched by a sympathizer in New Jersey. This sympathizer would help smuggle the group, each of whom Abu Henricki named during his ICSVE interview, over the southern border on false passports for eventual attacks on unspecified financial system targets inside the United States to create economic chaos. Abu Henricki said he refused the assignment and was tortured for refusing, but had no idea whether others had been sent in his stead. He said he thought some of the other Trinidadian plotters had been killed in action before they could leave.
Bensman — and even Speckhard — acknowledge that the idea terrorists may be taking advantage of the crisis at the southern border has become a political football, but that this does not mean that the threat shouldn’t be taken seriously, especially in light of the plot to attack National Harbor outside Washington, DC back in April using a truck to kill pedestrians.
In headlines, Rondell Henry was referred to as a “Maryland man,” but he was a native of Trinidad. Bensman wonders if the threat of terrorism through the southern border might be coming from radicalized natives of the tiny island nation off the coast of Venezuela.
The idea that ISIS would contemplate putting a team together for the U.S. border is more than plausible; it would be surprising if it had it not happened.
As I have often documented, too, (also here and here), the capacity for ISIS operatives to travel from Syria to the southern border is well-established. Smuggling organizations routinely bridge the Atlantic Ocean to link Middle Eastern countries like Syria and Iraq to the U.S. southern border through as many as a dozen Latin America countries. Numerous reputed Islamist terrorists have made the journey, such as a Somali who crossed into California and went on to conduct a 2017 vehicle-ramming attack in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
There’s no question at all that ISIS operatives living in Syria, including Trinidadians and Canadians, could have been smuggled through Mexico had they been sent.
That ISIS found plenty of Trinidad and Tobago citizens in its ranks is not surprising, and it is logical to initially assume that ISIS commanders might have thought of them as useful for border infiltration because they are familiar with western hemisphere route nations and might blend in well as Spanish-speaking workers and as English-speaking U.S. residents later.
As I have recently written, at least 130 of Trinidad and Tobago’s 1.2 million citizens, including entire families, joined ISIS in Syria and pose an infiltration threat upon return because the islands are close to known smuggling lanes to the border. The U.S. Army’s Southern Command has participated in anti-terror raids to capture high-value targets plotting attacks. Island residents have shown up on propaganda films committing murders in Syria. A New York Times article quoted former U.S. Ambassador John L. Estrada as saying islanders “are high up in the ranks” of ISIS. “They are very respected and they are English-speaking,” the former ambassador said.
In April, I wrote a column asking whether an ISIS-inspired T&T national living in Maryland, who was arrested for aspiring to a vehicle-ramming attack on Maryland’s National Harbor, maintained any associations with radicals in his homeland or abroad. ICSVE researchers have interviewed three Trinidadians from ISIS, now in SDF custody, one who lived for some time inside the United States as legal residents.
The point is that ISIS had available to it a pool of ideologically prepared, trained and willing Trinidadian operatives it could have sent.
Bensman concludes his report with this: “[R]egardless of partisan sentiment, [we should] look at the border crisis as about much more than Central Americans with children.” None of this is meant to make people paranoid about their island neighbors, simply to reinforce the truth that ISIS successfully recruits young men from many different nationalities, and may have been exploiting the upheaval at the southern border to try to get them in the country.