Monday, October 18, 2004

Mexico al-Qa'ida 'back door' to US

Politics is going to get many people killed.

Terrorists may have found a new American blind spot

Robert Lusetich

INTELLIGENCE reports that 25 Chechen terrorism suspects have illegally entered the US from Mexico have refocused attention on a porous border from which many believe the next major attack on Americans could come.

Despite the $US9 billion ($12.326 billion) budget, and assurances from President George W. Bush that border security is tighter than it has ever been, public figures of all political stripes in the border states say the danger of al-Qa'ida infiltrating the US from Mexico has never been higher.
The Washington Times newspaper reported that a source told US intelligence officers the Chechens, seen carrying backpacks, were shepherded from northern Mexico in July through a remote mountainous region of Arizona that is notoriously difficult to patrol.

It is not known if this intelligence was behind the warning issued by the US Education Department for American schools to be vigilant after Chechen militants took over a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, last month, a tragedy that cost at least 344 lives, half of them children.

The Chechen report has angered those who have been warning for months that US borders are insecure.

"In the name of national security we must do something about our wide-open southern border," said Arizona Republican congressional candidate Stan Barnes. "We are now in a war mentality. The first duty of a country in a war situation is to protect its borders."

Experts say it is not difficult for terrorists to blend into a vast sea of an estimated 13million illegal aliens, most of them impoverished Mexicans seeking work.

To make matters worse, the Department of Homeland Security is so hopelessly overstretched that it has taken to releasing what it calls OTMs (Other Than Mexicans) because it cannot house them until it arranges for deportation hearings.

"If they're deemed not dangerous, they're given a notice to appear in court, and the border patrol agents even have to drive them to a bus station and watch these people get on buses for New Jersey or California," said Cathy Travis, a senior aide to veteran Texas congressman Henry Ortiz.

Fewer than 30 per cent of the OTMs released into the US actually show up for their hearings, meaning an estimated 400,000 illegal aliens are currently in the US after being caught and released.

Officially, fewer than 100 border jumpers apprehended along the Mexican borders within the last year were from nations associated with Islamic terrorism.

However, Travis said that few of these people had identification papers, and many lied and said they were from South America in order to evade attention and have a better chance of being released.

"We have heard from border patrol agents that they're being told to let people who look like they're from East Africa and the Middle East go because they say their name is Juan Pablo Garcia from Guatemala -- except that they don't speak a word of Spanish," she said.

Congressman Ortiz has said that intelligence shows al-Qa'ida working with El Salvadorean criminal gangs as well as reports of Brazilians being recruited to accompany Arabs to illegally cross the US border. If they are apprehended, the groups say they are Brazilian -- knowing there are few Portuguese-speaking border patrol agents -- and are usually released into the US.

Sheriff D'Wayne Jernigan, of Del Rio, Texas, last month publicly blasted the dubious policy after being ordered by the Homeland Security Department to release 17 captured Brazilians before they had been interrogated.

Congressmen Ortiz, a Democrat, and Henry Bonilla, a Republican, also of Texas, wrote to Mr Bush and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge last month seeking an urgent solution.

"We simply cannot continue allowing US citizens to be under the mistaken impression that OTMs from countries that should raise suspicion are being detained in the US when, in fact, they are free to roam the nation at will," the congressmen wrote.

But the issue, surprisingly, has hardly made the front pages. "It's an election year," Travis explained.

"This is a very sensitive time. People on both sides have reasons not to want to talk about it. For Republicans, they don't want to upset the apple cart for Bush, while for Democrats, they know this whole issue of the border is very sensitive within the Hispanic community."

The FBI and CIA, however, are apparently very interested, especially after intelligence reported that a key lieutenant to Osama bin Laden, Adnan El Shukrijumah, was seen in Honduras and northern Mexico in recent months.

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