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Unholy Border Alliance By: Erick Stakelbeck
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, January 03, 2005

The new intelligence reform bill signed into law by President Bush on December 17 may ultimately end up being remembered more for the provisions it didn't contain rather than those it did.

After much heated debate, House and Senate negotiators ultimately threw out proposed provisions to the bill that would have tightened immigration laws. Although House Speaker Dennis Hastert has promised to bring drivers' license standards, asylum procedures and other border security provisions back to the House floor by early 2005, in the meantime, the very real danger that Islamist terrorists will infiltrate America's porous southern border persists. 

Roughly 60,000 illegal immigrants designated as 'other-than-Mexican,' or OTMs, were detained last year along the U.S.-Mexico border, including a sizable number from Arab and Muslim countries. And if recent reports are any indication, they may be getting some troubling new help in their efforts to enter the United States.


In a December 4 incident that received scant media attention, a Bangladeshi Muslim man named Fakhrul Islam was among a group of 13 illegal aliens arrested near Brownsville, Texas, just across the border from Mexico. Border Patrol agents have said that one of the men detained along with Islam was a member of Mara Salvatrucha, a violent Salvadoran criminal gang with more than 300,000 members across Central and North America, including powerful enterprises in several major U.S. cities.


Mara Salvatrucha, also commonly known as 'MS-13' due to its members' proclivity for sporting tattoos of the number 13, is involved in a smorgasbord of illegal activity, including the smuggling of drugs, weapons and people across the Mexican border. The gang controls many of the smuggling routes from Mexico into the U.S., a fact that has not escaped Al-Qaeda operatives eager to carry out attacks on American soil.


In July, Adnan El-Shukrijumah, a high-ranking Al-Qaeda leader and one of the most wanted terrorists in the world, was spotted in Honduras meeting with members of MS-13. Attorney General John Ashcroft has said that El-Shukrijumah, who he has described as a 'clear and present danger to America,' is seeking ways to infiltrate the U.S. via the Mexican border, and is willing to pay top dollar in order to do so.


El-Shukrijumah, reportedly last seen in August in northern Mexicoknows that the potential killing of innocent American civilians would certainly not deter MS-13 from working with Al-Qaeda: the gang is thought to be responsible for thousands of murders and maimings throughout the Western Hemisphere; and, like Islamist terrorists, decapitations and home-made bombs are part of its grisly arsenal.


With a ruthless, money-driven cabal like MS-13 controlling much of the illegal traffic between the U.S. and Mexico, there's no telling how many Islamist terrorists have already taken advantage. That someone of Middle Eastern descent could blend in with a large group of Mexicans with similarly dark complexions -- thereby escaping closer scrutiny from border patrols -- is all too feasible.


Then again, an October intelligence report supplied to the Department of Homeland Security by Russian security services said that a group of 25 backpack-carrying Chechen terrorists -- all white -- illegally entered Arizona by way of Mexico last summer. Furthermore, in September, Farida Ahmed, a South African Muslim woman, pleaded guilty in a Texas court to illegal entry, lying to a federal agent and using an altered passport. Ahmed had been detained by Border Patrol officers in July as she tried to board a plane for New York out of Texas.


At the time of her arrest, Ahmed was carrying $7,300 in various currencies as well as a fake South African passport that was missing pages. She admitted to entering the U.S. illegally by wading across the Rio Grande, and her travel itinerary showed that on her way to America, she had stopped in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, just as several of the 9/11 hijackers had done.


It was announced last week that Ahmed is due to be deported. But many non-Mexican illegal aliens like Ahmed are invariably released by immigration officials who simply don't have the detention space to hold them. Worse, up to 85 percent of them skip their scheduled immigration hearings, only to disappear into American society.


While entry into the U.S. is their primary goal in establishing a base in Latin America, Islamist terrorists -- well-aware of the allure Marxism once held for many south of the border -- also see the region as a potential breeding ground for Islamic converts due to its poor economic and social conditions and corrupt governments.


For instance, the Shia terrorist group Hezbollah wields a strong presence in the tri-border region, a lawless, crime-ridden area where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay intersect. Both Osama bin Laden and 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed are also said to have spent time there, during the 1990's.


It was Mohammed who in 2002 encouraged alleged dirty bomber Jose Padilla to 'enter the United States by way of Mexico' in order to carry out attacks on U.S. targets, according to Deputy Attorney General James Comey.


Ironically, before converting to Islam and volunteering his services to Al-Qaeda, Padilla belonged to the Chicago chapter of the Latin Kings -- like MS-13, a violent Hispanic criminal gang.


Although U.S. agents were able to collar Padilla before he could carry out a terrorist attack, the U.S. border strategy, as presently construed, may one day soon yield a much less savory result. Come January, lawmakers should take notice.


Erick Stakelbeck is senior writer at the Investigative Project, a Washington, D.C.-based counter-terrorism research institute.

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