A former Canadian resident arrested in the U.S. allegedly “discussed” plans to kill tens of thousands of people through air and water contamination with a Montreal man already accused in a cross-border terror plot.
Tunisian national Ahmed Abassi has been charged with fraudulently applying for a visa in order to remain in the U.S. to facilitate an “act of international terrorism,” U.S. authorities said Thursday.
Prosecutors allege Abassi had “radicalized” Chiheb Esseghaier, one of two men charged with plotting to attack a Via Rail train travelling from the U.S. to Canada.
“The defendant noted that he had suggested an alternative plot — contaminating the air or water with bacteria in order to kill up to 100,000 people — but that Esseghaier was dismissive of that plan,” prosecutors said.
“Ahmed Abassi had an evil purpose for seeking to remain in the United States – to commit acts of terror and develop a network of terrorists here, and to use this country as a base to support the efforts of terrorists internationally,” said Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Esseghaier allegedly later “received overseas training and plotted to engage in terrorist activity in the West.”
Esseghaier, also a Tunisian national, was a PhD student doing doctoral research on nanosensors in Montreal.
The FBI alleged that Abassi told the undercover officer he knew of a number of individuals who, like him, would be willing to engage in terrorist activity.
Additionally, documents said Abassi allegedly expressed his desire to support terror groups, including the al Nusrah Front, which is recognized by the U.S. government as an alias for al-Qaida in Iraq.
“Abassi made clear that he wanted to obtain immigration documents and to remain in the United States so that he could engage in ‘projects’ relating to future terrorist activities, including recruitment,” authorities said.
The indictment charges Abassi with two counts of knowingly making false statements in an application to the immigration authorities for a green card and work visa in order to facilitate an act of international terrorism.
Each count carries a maximum term of 25 years in prison.
“Building an Immigration System Worthy of American Values”
Today my commentary is based on an article that appeared in Government Executive Magazine on July 18, 2012. In fact, the title for that article serves as the title for my commentary. The Government Executive Magazine article was itself predicated on a GAO report that was issued in June 2012 and bore the title:
STUDENT AND EXCHANGE VISITOR PROGRAM
DHS Needs to Assess Risks and Strengthen Oversight Functions
The deficiencies that were identified and memorialized in the GAO report cannot be over-emphasized especially as we approach the eleventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
While most people understand that our nation’s security is imperiled when aliens evade the inspections process and run our nation’s borders, many people fail to understand that a lack of integrity to the lawful entry process creates a serious threat to national security as well.
Indeed, it must be remembered that the 19 terrorists who so savagely attacked the United States on September 11, 2001 managed to game the visa process and the process by which aliens are admitted into the United States at ports of entry.
Many people would be surprised to know how many foreign students are currently present in the United States or how many schools are authorized to issue the forms that enable foreign students to obtain student visas.
The GAO report provided some important numbers. It noted that there are some 10,000 schools authorized to enroll foreign students and that there are roughly 850,000 foreign students studying in those schools that are scattered across the United States. Considering the huge number of schools and students, it is obvious that not all of these schools are truly institutions of “higher learning.” Upon considering the findings of the GAO as memorialized in the report that agency issued, it is clear that some of those schools are not really schools at all, but exist simply to provide profits to those who run them and serve to permit aliens to enter the United States by creating the illusion of lawful entry and the illusion of lawful presence in the United States by aliens who use the term “student” as a means of creating an aura of legality for themselves when, in fact, there is no way of knowing why they are actually here.
GAO reported that some 457,000 students’ visas were issued in 2011. The report makes it clear that there is little integrity to the entire program and even where flight schools are concerned. The Government Executive Magazine article contained the following excerpt:
A Government Accountability Office report released Tuesday found that case files of many institutions certified by the student and exchange visitor program lacked the necessary evidence required by regulations. The report also found that 38 percent of flight schools, which are required to register with the Federal Aviation Administration, had not done so.
Here is an excerpt from the GAO Report’s findings of failures:
ICE has not consistently implemented existing controls, in accordance with internal control standards and fraud prevention practices, to verify schools’ legitimacy and eligibility during initial SEVP certification and once schools begin accepting foreign students. Specifically, ICE officials do not consistently verify certain evidence initially submitted by schools in lieu of accreditation. In addition, ICE does not maintain records to document SEVP-certified schools’ ongoing compliance. GAO found that 30 of a randomly-selected sample of 48 SEVP- certified school case files lacked at least one piece of required evidence, such as proof of school officials’ citizenship or permanent residency. ICE was unable to produce 2 of the 50 case files. ICE officials noted that some files were missing because they were lost or destroyed when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) took over the program from the former Immigration and Naturalization Service; moreover, ICE officials cannot quantify how many files are missing. Without verification of evidence and complete case files, ICE cannot provide reasonable assurance that schools were initially and continue to be eligible for certification. Further, ICE policies require that SEVP-certified flight schools offering flight training have specific Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certifications; however, GAO found that approximately 167 of 434 (or 38 percent) SEVP-certified flight schools do not have the required certifications as of December 2011.
Remember, this report was issued nearly 11 years after the attacks of September 11, 2001 in which some of those terrorists who participated in those attacks had attended flight schools in the United States. For me, there is a personal component to this.
On March 19, 2002 I testified before a hearing convened by the House Immigration Subcommittee on the topic:
“INS’S MARCH 2002 NOTIFICATION OF APPROVAL OF CHANGE OF STATUS FOR PILOT TRAINING FOR TERRORIST HIJACKERS MOHAMMED ATTA AND MARWAN AL-SHEHHI”
The hearing was covered by C-SPAN and the video of that entire hearing is certainly worth watching!
You may also review the transcript of that hearing, in its entirety.
It is unfathomable that roughly 130 months after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 such gaping holes abound in the student visa program! I would remind you that on September 11, 2001 approximately 3,000 innocent lives were obliterated by the worst terrorist attack ever committed on American soil and more victims have since perished because of their exposure to the toxins that were released during those attacks.
Ironically, on December 7, 1941 some 3,000 people were killed when the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor. Yet just 44 months later, World War II was brought to a successful conclusion. America was not yet considered a “Super-Power” and yet, working with our allies we built fleets of aircraft that had never before existed, fleets of ships that had never existed before, brand new weapons systems and innovations such as radar and even atomic weapons.
America and its leaders of the “Greatest Generation” rose to accept the challenges and the phrase “Can do!” all but became America’s motto!
We are still waging a “War on Terror” but the sense of focus and mission that was evidenced by our government during the Second World War is nowhere to be found where America’s leaders are concerned today.
Our immigration laws exist for two primary purposes- to protect American lives and protect Americans’ jobs. The abject lack of integrity to our borders and our immigration system compromise those two vital goals at a time when there can be no compromise!
Prepared Testimony of Michael W. Cutler, Senior Special Agent, INS (Ret.) for Sena te Judiciary Committee Hearing on March 20, 2013 on the topic- Building an Immigration Sy stem Worthy of American Values- March 18, 2013.doc
Prepared Testimony of Michael W. Cutler, Senior Special Agent, INS (Ret.) for Sena te Judiciary Committee Hearing on March 20, 2013 on the topic- Building an Immigration Sy stem Worthy of American Values- March 18, 2013.odt