News just broke that ISIS is operating a camp a mere eight miles south of El Paso, Texas. According to Judicial Watch (whose sources include an unnamed Mexican Federal Police Inspector and a Mexican Army field officer), the terrorist group has established a base just west of Ciudad Juarez in an area known as Anapra.
During a joint operation between the Mexican Army and US Federal law enforcement, officials recovered prayer rugs, Arabic documents, and “plans” of Fort Bliss—the second largest military installation in the US. The Anapra area is largely controlled by the Juarez Cartel and La Linea (the enforcement arm of the cartel) – making it an extremely dangerous area to police. According to Judicial Watch’s sources, “coyotes” engaged in human smuggling (and who work for the cartel) help ISIS terrorists cross the border.
In researching this report, we couldn’t find any other media outlets that were able to independently verify the story, and no US federal officials have corroborated this allegation. Mexican officials flatly denied the claims. At this juncture, we are unable to ascertain how reliable the Judicial Watch story is or what information might be withheld from the public. So all we can do is ask, “How plausible is this scenario?”
Both politicians and citizens have expressed concern that our southern border is so porous, members of a terrorist group could slip undetected into the United States from Mexico. Rep. Trent Franks, a Republican from Arizona, believes his state faces an imminent threat, “..if unaccompanied minors can cross the border, then certainly trained terrorists probably can too.”
That certainly seems logical, but experts don’t seem to agree.
According to David Schnauzer, director of Duke University’s Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, “There is a big difference between a theoretical risk and a risk that is worth worrying about.” In his work with government officials, the general sentiment was: “Is it possible that ISIS could sneak through the border—illegal immigrants do it every day. But why would they?” Schnauzer noted that ISIS members who have US passports and/or visas can enter the country legally via airplane (just as the 9/11 hijackers did) – whereas crossing the border poses much more risk.
Daniel Benjamin, former ambassador at large and coordinator for counterterrorism at the State Department, says ISIS is “overwhelmingly focused” on Iraq and Syria and the group likely does not have the wherewithal, support or financing required to stage an attack on American soil – at this point.
What stands out to me, in looking at the reasons experts assert that a terrorist would not use the southern border as an entry point to the U.S., is the notion that a plane is a better method. Well, not necessarily – if you want to bring guns and bomb making material with you.
I also have some concern over Benjamin’s comment that ISIS “likely does not have the wherewithal” or resources to launch an attack on our homeland. Watching the news, I think we have all seen ISIS has the wherewithal to do many things we never imagined. And they have proven to be a more difficult foe than a JV team.
When news broke last summer that ISIS was using Twitter and Facebook to “urged infiltration” across the US-Mexico border, Undersecretary of Intelligence and Analysis Francis Taylor said, “Yes, sir, there have been Twitter, social media exchanges among ISIL adherents across the globe speaking about that as a possibility,” Taylor said, adding: “I’m satisfied that we have the intelligence and the capability at our border that would prevent that activity.”
I could find no reports of people laughing at this response. If hundreds of thousands of people can successfully breach the U.S. southern border every year, why can’t ISIS members?
In my recent Yemen article, I briefly mentioned a 2011 Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador. According to the Department of Justice, this plan involved a Mexican drug cartel. One of the two suspects, Iranian-born US citizen Manssor Arbabsiar, confessed to hiring Mexican narcotics traffickers to assassinate the Ambassador Adel al-Juberin in Washington.
Court documents revealed they planned to use plastic explosives to blow up the Saudi Embassy or an unnamed restaurant frequented by the ambassador (and many US senators). The plot was foiled when the hired assassin turned out to be an undercover informant for the Drug Enforcement Agency. And, it’s clear that state-backed and/or well-funded terror organizations have been turning to Mexican cartels as a means of potential support in developing terror operations in the U.S.
Whether there is an ISIS training camp on our border today is unsure (perhaps even doubtful given all the debunking of the JW reports out in the last 48 hours). But that does not mean the US-Mexico border is not a real concern. We have sources that confirm that representatives of ISIS have been in contact with Mexican cartels. We can only speculate about what they discussed and whether they reached agreement, but it is clear, this poses a threat we should continue to monitor.