Terrorism Case Exposes Gaps in Refugee Screening
by IPT News • Jun 8, 2011 at 9:23 pm
It took nearly two years for American security officials to match the fingerprints of an Iraqi man entering the country as a refugee to those found on an unexploded roadside bomb found in Bayji in 2005.
Now several analysts and public officials want to know why, and whether any similar lapses have occurred.
Waad Alwan entered the United States in April 2009 after applying for, and receiving, refugee status. Five months later, the FBI's office in Bowling Green launched an investigation into the Iraqi national. In January 2011, authorities matched Alwan's fingerprints taken in 2009 to those lifted off the bomb in 2005.
Alwan has been jailed since May 25 and is charged with conspiring to kill Americans abroad, to use a weapon of mass destruction and attempting to provide material support to al-Qaida in Iraq, among other charges.
Investigators also did not realize that Alwan had been previously arrested in 2006 by Iraqi authorities after fighting with militant insurgents for three years. Officials and experts agree the case indicates problems with the refugee screening process.
Stewart Baker, who developed the Bush administration's national security policy, told National Public Radio that the United States must "go back and review the files of the people who've already been admitted here to make sure that we didn't make mistakes at the time." Baker estimates that 18,000 more Iraqis are expected to enter the United States in 2011- adding to the 50,000 refugees who have come here since the start of the Iraq war.
The refugee program needs serious reform, he said. "This may be the largest or close to the largest national group that we bring to the United States every year, and I wonder whether that's the smartest choice."
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., expressed similar concern over the case. "What I want to know is, how the heck did he get into our country?" he asked during a news conference. "Was someone asleep at the switch here? Did someone approve this guy for political asylum even though he'd been in prison as an insurgent?" Paul said he hopes to hold a congressional hearing on the matter.
"Rarely do you get that much evidence," Frank Cilluffo, director of a homeland security studies program at George Washington University, told the Associated Press, referring to the fingerprints. "It's that much more trouble that it wasn't caught."
According to court documents, when an FBI source stepped in to investigate Alwan in 2009, the Iraqi national said he had used "hundreds" of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) while in Iraq. Alwan specifically discussed planting an IED on the side of a road frequented by American vehicles. In 2006, Alwan was captured by Iraqi authorities and later released.
Upon the FBI informant's request, Alwan loaded trucks with Stinger missiles, rocket propelled grenade launchers, machine guns and cash. Alwan believed that those materials were intended for al-Qaida in Iraq and other Iraqi militants. He even recruited another Iraqi national from Bowling Green, Mohanad Hammadi, to help load the trucks.
Hammadi has also been indicted on material support charges.