By Anna Giaritelli, Homeland Security Reporter
AUSTIN, Texas — U.S. Border Patrol agents apprehended a suspected terrorist from Saudi Arabia in western Arizona late last week after he attempted to enter the United States illegally from Mexico.
The 21-year-old man from Saudi Arabia was encountered by federal law enforcement on Dec. 16 wearing a jacket for the Volunteer Ambulance Corps in Central Oneida County, located in upstate New York. The man’s name was not disclosed.
“#USBP #YumaSector agents apprehended a potential terrorist who illegally entered the U.S. from Mexico Thursday night. The 21-year-old migrant from Saudi Arabia is linked to several Yemeni subjects of interest,” Chris Clem, the top Border Patrol agent in Yuma, Arizona, wrote in a Twitter post Monday.
#USBP #YumaSector agents apprehended a potential terrorist who illegally entered the U.S. from Mexico Thursday night. The 21-year-old migrant from Saudi Arabia is linked to several Yemeni subjects of interest. #BorderSecurity is #NationalSecurity pic.twitter.com/qszg0L0OYQ— Chief Patrol Agent Chris T. Clem (@USBPChiefYUM) December 20, 2021
Known or suspected terrorists encountered at land, air, and sea borders are turned over to other federal authorities for investigation, Brandon Judd, the national president of the National Border Patrol Council, told the Washington Examiner Monday afternoon.
“When we apprehend somebody from a special-interest country, in all cases we immediately notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations and Federal Bureau of Investigation. HSI and FBI then determine what is done with that individual,” Judd said. “We have no contact with that individual unless the FBI and HSI determine they are not going to take him. If they don’t take him, then we’ll process them as normal.”
In August, the outgoing national Border Patrol chief, Rodney Scott, told agents they were catching people from the Terrorist Screening Database “at a level we have never seen before.”
The surge of migrants at the southern border over the past nine months has prompted Border Patrol to pull more than 40% of agents from the field to help transport, process, and care for people in custody, meaning fewer agents patrol for national security threats. Often, smugglers send large groups of families and children to divert agents to one area and then run other contraband or people over the border where agents are not present.
Shortly after President Joe Biden took office in January, U.S. Customs and Border Protection told members of Congress that federal law enforcement had stopped four people on the terror watchlist. A CBP news release about these specific encounters was taken down from the government agency’s website hours after going up, prompting complaints from Republicans about the Department of Homeland Security’s transparency.
The congressional briefing confirmed what House Republicans had said during a border tour in Texas in March. House Homeland Security Committee ranking member John Katko, a former federal prosecutor based in El Paso, Texas, during his time as a lawyer, said the international cartels were “masterfully” exploiting the border due to an easing of Trump-era border restrictions.
The four terror watchlist matches represented a greater number than the average total seen in recent years. Although several thousand people are denied entry to the U.S. at airports each year as a result of being on the list, it is unusual for such people to be encountered trying to get into the U.S. between land border crossings. The four matches were citizens of Serbia and Yemen.
CBP did not respond to a request for comment.