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Stephen Miller’s claim that 72 from banned countries were implicated in ‘terroristic activity’

In 2017, The Post’s Rosalind S. Helderman looked at the influence that Stephen Miller, President Trump’s senior policy adviser, held inside the White House. (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

“First of all, 72 individuals, according to the Center for Immigration Studies, have been implicated in terroristic activity in the United States who hail from those seven nations, point one.”
— White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Feb. 12, 2017

“We know there’s at least several dozen, perhaps many more than that, cases of terrorism from these countries that have happened in the United States in terms of terroristic plots, terroristic activity, material support for terrorism, supporting terrorism overseas, all different kinds of terroristic activity that’s been interdicted in the United States tracing back to these seven countries.”
— Miller, ABC’s “This Week,” Feb. 12

Miller earned Four Pinocchios for repeating debunked claims about voter fraud on the Sunday shows. But he made other problematic claims as well. In defending President Trump’s executive order on immigration, he said on the Sunday shows that dozens of people “have been implicated in terroristic activity,” including providing material support for terrorism.

Miller claimed this, despite a ruling by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit that “the Government has pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the Order has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States.” What is Miller talking about?

The Facts

Miller is citing research by the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports lower levels of legal and illegal immigration. According to the center’s study, released Feb. 11, 72 people from the seven countries identified through the executive order have been “convicted in terror cases since the 9/11 attacks.” The seven countries are Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

As we have documented before, the Trump administration compiled the list from countries previously identified by Congress and the Obama administration as potentially problematic if someone had traveled to them since 2011, but Trump then used the list to try to ban citizens of those countries from traveling to the United States.

The center found that 33 of the 72 people “were convicted of very serious terror-related crimes,” including conspiracy to commit a terrorist act, material support of a terrorist or terrorist group, and international money-laundering conspiracy.

On the list were the two Iraqi refugees in Bowling Green, Ky., who in 2011 were arrested and faced federal terrorism charges after it was discovered that, before becoming refugees, they had potentially targeted U.S. soldiers in Iraq. The revelation prompted the Obama administration to impose new, more extensive background checks on Iraqi refugees.

Other examples included:

  • Nima Yusuf, a native of Somalia, who pleaded guilty in 2011 to conspiring to provide material support to al-Shabab. In her plea agreement, she said she had worked to provide money and personnel for al-Shabab, knowing the group was designated as a foreign terrorist organization.
  • Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, a native of Somalia, who in 2011 pleaded guilty to a nine-count indictment charging him with providing material support to al-Shabab and al-Qaeda. The FBI’s announcement of Warsame’s guilty plea said he was “al Shabaab’s emissary to AQAP [al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] and arranged for al Shabaab to purchase weapons directly from AQAP.”
  • Mohamad Mustapha Ali Masfaka, a native of Syria, who in 2010 was sentenced to prison after pleading guilty to making false statements under oath in naturalization proceedings. Masfaka, a singer, was indicted on a charge of lying to federal officials about his involvement with the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, a designated terrorist organization.
  • Manssor Arbabsiar, a native of Iran, who in 2013 was sentenced to prison after pleading guilty to one count of murder for hire, one count of conspiracy to commit murder for hire and one count of conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism. Arbabsiar participated in a plot to murder the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States, acting in concert with members of Iran’s Quds Force, which has been designated “as a terrorist supporter for providing material support to the Taliban and other terrorist organizations.”

But it’s important to note that being convicted of material support is not always evidence that the person was planning a terrorist attack or terrorism-related activities.

Some cases involved individuals who were convicted of charges unrelated to terrorism activities, but who prosecutors charged were related to terrorist groups abroad. For example, three Rochester businessmen (Mohamed al-Huraibi, Yehia Ali Ahmed Alomari and Saleh Mohamed Taher Saeed) were convicted of money-laundering charges in 2009. Federal prosecutors charged that the men sent $200,000 overseas knowing the money could benefit Hezbollah.

But according to the Associated Press, “authorities stressed that the men had no links to any terrorist groups and have not been charged with any terrorism crimes.” A federal prosecutor said at the time: “This is simply a money laundering case. There are no charges claiming that they were giving money or aiding any terrorist organizations.”

The Center for Immigration Studies noted there were charges of terrorist links that prosecutors decided not to pursue in court.

In one 2013 case, Siavosh Henareh, was sentenced to prison for conspiring to import heroin into the United States. Henareh was one of three defendants charged in connection with trafficking of drugs and weapons on behalf of Hezbollah. Henareh faced a narcotics charge, but his two co-defendants were convicted of conspiring to provide material support to Hezbollah.

Some of the people on this list had entered the United States decades before they were charged with any of the crimes — as early as 1972. This list included people who were naturalized citizens, legal permanent residents, refugees, people whose citizenship statuses were unknown, and a Canadian citizen and a Dutch citizen born in Iraq.

Moreover, the list also includes about two dozen cases that are related to charges of fraudulent visas, passport forgery or making false statements. In some cases, the people were specifically found not to have any known ties to terrorism operations. Some were a part of investigations following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, of people suspected of being connected to the hijackers. Some were found not to have such ties, or were convicted of making false statements to federal investigators about how much they knew about the 9/11 hijackers.

For example:

  • Mohamed Albanna, native of Yemen and a U.S. citizen for 27 years at the time of his 2002 indictment, was convicted of money laundering. At the time of his indictment in Buffalo, the special agent in charge of the U.S. Customs Service there said authorities “had no evidence to link the money transfer to any terror-related activity.”
  • Numan Maflahi, a native of Yemen, was convicted in 2004 of lying during a terrorism investigation. Maflahi “denied helping a Yemeni cleric who prosecutors said made a fund-raising trip to Brooklyn mosques in 1999,” and the cleric was thought to have connections to al-Qaeda.
  • About 10 people who were among 20 men of Middle Eastern origin arrested after the 9/11 attacks under suspicion of fraudulently obtaining a license to transport hazardous materials. None of them were linked to terrorist groups.
  • Nageeb Abdul Jabar al-Hadi, a native of Yemen, was found guilty of visa and passport fraud. He had used the documents to get on a flight hours after the 9/11 attacks. His attorney said he was a “victim of bad advice from his friends in his home country.”
  • Hadir Awad, native of Syria, was accused of borrowing a passport from a friend and using it to enter the United States illegally in 1999. He was convicted of a charge of visa fraud.

The White House did not provide an explanation when we asked for one.

As we noted before, of about 400 people charged with or credibly involved in jihad-inspired activity in the United States since 9/11, just under half (197) were U.S.-born citizens, according to research by the nonpartisan think tank New America Foundation. An additional 82 were naturalized citizens, and 44 were permanent residents.

Trump’s executive order applies to migrants, refugees, visitors and potentially even U.S. green-card holders from these seven countries. But the order would not have prevented some of the most high-profile terrorist attacks by people from countries excluded from that list, including the 9/11 hijackers, the attackers in San Bernardino, Calif., and the Boston Marathon bombers.

[Update: The Department of Homeland Security found insufficient evidence that the seven countries affected by the immigration order posed a terror threat to the United States, according to the Associated Press. DHS analysts concluded that “few people from the countries Trump listed in his travel ban have carried out attacks or been involved in terrorism-related activities in the U.S. since Syria’s civil war started in 2011," AP reported.]

The Pinocchio Test

Miller cited this research to say that several dozen people from the seven countries identified in the executive order were involved in “all different kinds of terroristic activity.” But upon closer examination of the cases on the list, it becomes clear that his statement went too far. In fact, this is pretty thin gruel on which to make sweeping claims about the alleged threat posed to the United States by these seven countries, especially because the allegations often did not concern alleged terrorist acts in the United States.

The list does include some people who were convicted of providing material support, such as money or personnel, to groups that are designated as terrorist organizations, such as al-Shabab and al-Qaeda. But it also includes people who were convicted of passport fraud, visa fraud and making fraudulent claims to federal investigators. About two dozen people on this list were not charged with any crimes relating to providing material support to known or suspected terrorist activities or organizations.

Others were believed to be tangentially related to terrorism groups abroad, but did not face terrorism charges. Regardless of the direct or tangential ties that investigators believe each individual may have to terrorist activities, these charges need to be proven in a court of law. Suspected or potential terror links involving these 72 individuals do not confirm Miller’s claim that they were “implicated in terrorist activity.”

Moreover, some people on this list entered the United States — many of them naturalized — decades before they were charged with any of the crimes. That makes Miller’s use of this list to defend Trump’s executive order quite questionable. We award Three Pinocchios.

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“First of all, 72 individuals, according to the Center for Immigration Studies, have been implicated in terroristic activity in the United States who hail from those seven nations, point one.”
in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press”
Sunday, February 12, 2017