An ISIS fighter captured in Syria recently revealed at least one plot to infiltrate the United States through the porous southern border with Mexico to launch terrorist attacks from within the country.
Anne Speckhard and Ardian Shajkovci, researchers with the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism, have interviewed hundreds of captured terrorists in recent years, including a Canadian with dual Trinidad citizenship named Abu Henricki al Canadi, who turned himself in to Syrian Democratic Forces aligned with the U.S. this spring.
This week, Speckhard and Shajkovci published the interview with Canadi in which he details his time with ISIS in Syria, where he alleges ISIS leaders proposed a plan to smuggle him into the U.S. through Mexico and tortured and imprisoned him when he and others refused, Homeland Security Today reports.
Canadi spent an hour and a half with the ICSVE researchers on May 12 to explain what attracted him to the violent Islamic State Caliphate and why he was ultimately imprisoned by the group with his Canadian wife in Manbij in 2016. Canadi was tortured, though his wife wasn’t, and the two were eventually released. A life threatening illness and living homeless in an unrelenting war zone later convinced them and others to commandeer a van and drive to a SDF checkpoint to turn themselves in, he said.
Canadi told ICSVE his adventures in Syria started to unravel shortly after he and other Trinidadians were approached to carry out a plot to infiltrate and attack the U.S. from within.
“The emni (ISIS intelligence arm) was inviting us,” Canadi said. “He speaks English. He is a Tunisian, maybe. I don’t know. He approached the guys, and they approached me. He didn’t come directly to me.”
“They, what they will have, what they wanted to do, basically, is they wanted to do financial attacks. Financial attacks to cripple the economy,” he said. “Apparently, they have the contacts or whatever … papers they can get to a false ID, false passports. They have their system of doing it. So that’s maybe the … way that I could have gone out with other individuals. It wasn’t me alone. They were sending you to Puerto Rico and from Puerto Rico (to Mexico).”
“One reason why I was also put in prison in 2016, I was asked to leave to go to America because I’m from that area. Cause they wanted and planned to do something and I refused,” he said. “I refused to do it. That is why also I’m put into prison and been tortured.”
“I knew I went to prison because I said no (to the external attack mission),” Canadi told ICSVE. “But they wouldn’t say that.”
They were going to move me to the Mexican side (of the U.S. southern border) via Puerto Rico. …
This was mastermind by a guy in America. Where he is, I do not know. That information, the plan came from someone from the New Jersey state from America. …
I was going to take a boat (from Puerto Rico) into Mexico. He was going to smuggle me in. …
I don’t know where I’d end up. I’m not willing to do it. But this is one of the wicked plans they had and I would like to think I foiled the plan by not being part of it.
Canadi said he was unsure what ISIS would have expected him to do once inside the U.S., but “all I could think of was a bombing mission.”
As far as he knows, the others approached for the mission are no longer alive, including several he allegedly watch die from air strikes and sniper fire.
“I think they died,” he said. “I think they also refused.”
Speckhard and Shajkovci note that ISIS terrorists routinely infiltrate European countries to carry out attacks – citing attacks in Paris in 2016, at the Brussels airport in 2016, and others – but documented plots to cross into the U.S. through the porous southern U.S. border are less common.
The Trump administration constantly highlights the national security risk from terrorists infiltrating the U.S. amid the massive mobs of migrants flooding across the border, pointing to 4,000 “known or suspected terrorists” prevented from crossing the southern border in 2018.
Democrats have downplayed the risk by pointing out the 4,000 figure released by the White House included security stops at airports.
“Whatever one thinks of President Donald Trump’s heightened rhetoric about the U.S.-Mexico border and his many claims that it is vulnerable to terrorists, ISIS apparently also thought so,” Speckhard and Shajkovci wrote, “as knowledge of this ISIS plot came from the mouth of a now-repentant ISIS cadre.”
“This account is not a warning bulletin for an imminent attack against our country, nor is it a fear-mongering attempt to suggest a wave of ISIS terrorists are waiting to cross our southern border,” they continued. “But a reminder to diligently consider leads and sources that confirm terrorists’ intentions to exploit one of the weakest links in our national security – our borders.”