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ICE admits oversight allowed Al-Shabaab member to live in US for nearly a year

Saturday February 3, 2024

Patrick J. Lechleitner speaks during a news conference at the Department of Justice in Washington, DC, in September 2022. Jose Luis Magana/AP

Minneapolis (HOL) - In a startling admission, the acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Patrick Lechleitner, revealed that a member of the al-Shabaab terrorist group was allowed to freely roam the United States for almost a year after being apprehended at the southern border. The unnamed 27-year-old Somali native was initially detained near San Ysidro, California, on March 13, 2023, following an illegal crossing.

Despite the immediate detention by U.S. Border Patrol, a procedural oversight due to a "mismatch" in the Terrorist Screening Center's evaluation process led to the individual's release into the U.S. It wasn't until a reassessment on January 18, 2024, identified the man as a confirmed al-Shabaab member, involved in the use, manufacture, or transport of explosives or firearms, that ICE took decisive action to arrest him in Minneapolis, Minnesota, within 48 hours of this redetermination.

This incident has drawn sharp criticism from political figures, most notably House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, who, alongside Minnesota Republicans Brad Finstad, Michelle Fischbach, and Pete Stauber, has voiced strong opposition to the circumstances that allowed this oversight. In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Emmer highlighted the frustration and concern of his constituents.

 "It is unacceptable that the Department of Homeland Security wrongly allowed this terrorist into our country through the southern border after identification concluded he was on the terrorist watch list," the letter reads in part. 

Throughout the fiscal year 2023, the U.S. has experienced a marked increase in individuals on the terror watchlist attempting to cross its borders, with authorities apprehending 172 suspects. This situation underscores the challenges facing U.S. border security and immigration enforcement, particularly in the context of global terrorism. 

Recent developments have shown a focus on al-Shabaab members trying to navigate international borders, with Costa Rica becoming a critical point for detaining individuals linked to terrorism. In December 2023, Costa Rican officials arrested Ali Abdinuur Ahmed, a Somali associated with al-Shabaab, near the Panama border. Earlier in 2023, Costa Rica arrested and deported Luthman Warsame Farah, a senior al-Shabaab leader's eldest son, who was in the country under false identities.

The oversight incident is set against a backdrop of intensified migration and security concerns. The May 2023 expiration of Title 42, a public health order that restricted asylum claims at the border to prevent the spread of COVID-19, has led to a projected surge in migrants, many originating from Somalia. 


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