Four men flew from Istanbul through Paris to Mexico City in late August, where they were met by a Turkish-speaking man who stashed them in a safe house until their Sept. 3 attempt to cross into the U.S. over the border with Mexico.
Their capture by the Border Patrol in Texas set off a fierce debate over the men’s intentions, with some members of Congress saying they were terrorist fighters. Homeland Security officials, including Secretary Jeh Johnson, countered that they were part of the Kurdish resistance which, like the U.S., is fighting the Islamic State’s advance in Iraq.
But whether the men are linked to anti-U.S. jihadists or not, they admitted to being part of a U.S.-designated terrorist group, and their ability to get into the U.S. through the southern border — they paid $8,000 each to be smuggled into Texas — details the existence of a network capable of bringing terrorists across the border.
The four men’s story, as discerned from internal September and October documents reviewed by The Washington Times, also seems to contrast with what Mr. Johnson told Congress in September, when he assured lawmakers that the four men were not considered terrorist threats to the U.S., even as behind the scenes his department proposed the four be put on terrorist watch lists.
Homeland Security spokeswoman Marsha Catron said the individuals weren’t associated with the Islamic State, which is also known by the acronyms ISIL and ISIS.
“The suggestion that individuals who have ties to ISIL have been apprehended at the southwest border is categorically false, and not supported by any credible intelligence or the facts on the ground,” Ms. Catron said. “DHS continues to have no credible intelligence to suggest terrorist organizations are actively plotting to cross the southwest border.”
She did not reply to questions about the status of the four men or why her department proposed they be put on terrorist watch lists.
As of a month ago they were being held at the South Texas Detention Facility in Pearsall, Texas.
The men initially claimed to be members of the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front, known by the acronym DHKP/C. The group is a Marxist insurgency that claimed credit for a 2013 suicide bomb attack on the U.S. embassy in Ankara, Turkey’s capital, last year.
But U.S. counterterrorism officials said the men were more likely members of the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has been battling for Kurdish rights within Turkey for decades, though recently PKK and Turkish leaders have tried to broker a political agreement.
Both the PKK and DHKP/C are listed by the State Department as terrorist groups.
Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies, said the fact that avowed members of terrorist groups got into the U.S. shows it’s possible to sneak across a porous border.
“This incident proves what enforcement experts have always known, and that is there are existing networks in Mexico and Central America that have been set up and cultivated by a variety of terrorist organizations to enable them to move people into the United States illegally,” Ms. Vaughan said.
It’s unclear what the men were trying to do. None of them admitted to being part of a plot against the U.S., and several told investigators they were hoping to seek asylum, saying they believed they were being targeted back home by police in Turkey.
Two of the men had tried to enter the U.S. before but had been denied visas when they couldn’t prove they intended to return to Turkey, the documents showed.
Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said he would be surprised if the men were part of a plot against the U.S.
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