After the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris last week, many news sources claimed that not a single refugee had been charged with terrorism in the U.S. since the attacks on 9/11, but the assertion does not stand up to scrutiny.
The noted publication The Economist proclaimed: “750,000 refugees have been resettled in America since 9/11; Not one has been arrested on domestic terrorism charges.”
In fact, several refugees have been convicted in high-profile terrorism plots, and several more were “asylees” -- people allowed to stay in the U.S. for the same reasons as refugees, but who do not go through the same screening process. In one case, two Iraqi refugees in Kentucky were convicted after it turned out they had used IEDs to attack U.S. soldiers in Iraq and were plotting other attacks. An FBI agent recalled that they bragged about that and said they had soldiers “for lunch and dinner… meaning that he had killed them,” ABC News reported an FBI official as saying in 2013.
" ... it only takes a handful of ISIS infiltrators hiding among them to bring the carnage we saw in Paris to our streets.”
- Marc Thiessen, American Enterprise Institue
A Department of Justice report noted that one of those refugees, Waad Ramadan Alwan, left fingerprints on unexploded IEDs in Iraq and that he was sentenced to 40 years in prison after he “pleaded guilty to conspiring to kill U.S. nationals abroad; conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction (explosives) against U.S. nationals abroad; distributing information on the manufacture and use of IEDs; attempting to provide material support to terrorists and to [Al Qaeda in Iraq] and conspiring to transfer, possess and export Stinger missiles.”
His conspirator, Mohanad Shareef Hammadi, was also let in through the refugee program and is now serving a life sentence.
Since that incident, government officials say they have tightened procedures for refugees and that people like those two would no longer get in. But officials have also said that while the U.S. has an extensive database of Iraqis and their histories, built up over years of occupying the country, similar information does not exist for Syrians, some 10,000 of whom could be coming to the U.S. under a White House proposal.
“If we don’t know much about somebody, there won’t be anything in our data,” FBI Director James Comey said in congressional testimony in October, adding, “I can’t sit here and offer anybody an absolute assurance that there’s no risk associated with this.”
In another recent case, an Uzbek refugee in Idaho was found guilty of conspiracy and attempting to support a terrorist organization, after he had allegedly been stockpiling explosives. His sentencing is scheduled for January.
A State Department spokesperson told FoxNews.com that “Of the three million refugees we have admitted to the United States since 1975, including nearly 785,000 refugees admitted to the U.S. since the events of 9/11, approximately a dozen -- a tiny fraction of one percent -- have either been arrested or removed from the United States due to security concerns that existed prior to their resettlement in the U.S."
The statement added: “While no immigration program is completely without risk, the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program is focused on upholding the national security of the United States.”
Supporters of letting more refugees in say that U.S. should not let the occasional danger get in the way of helping thousands.
“It’s a fairly small threat, and the benefits greatly outweigh it,” CATO immigration analyst Alex Nowrasteh told FoxNews.com, pointing to the results of past refugee flows.
“Every refugee flow in the past has been criticized and they turn out to be fine -- and a benefit in terms of economic growth and their contribution to the economy,” he said, adding that most refugees also have critical Arabic language skills and a dislike of ISIS that might prove a national security asset for future involvement in the Middle East.
But some terrorism experts say Americans should be very worried about taking more refugees.
“There are serious security concerns.The vast majority of Syrian refugees are legitimate victims of terror and persecution, but it only takes a handful of ISIS infiltrators hiding among them to bring the carnage we saw in Paris to our streets,” Marc Thiessen, American Enterprise Institute fellow and former senior policy adviser to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, told FoxNews.com.
“Moreover, polls show that while the vast majority of refugees oppose ISIS, about 13 percent support the terror network,” Thiessen noted.
Other high-profile terrorists entered the U.S. first and then applied for asylum, which can be granted to people who “meet the definition of refugee,” according to the government’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
That includes the Boston marathon bombers, who came from Chechnya and were granted asylum in the U.S. before killing three and injuring more than 250 people.
Members of the “Fort Dix 6,” who were convicted of conspiracy to murder U.S. military personnel, also entered seeking asylum; they were never granted it, but were never removed from the country, either.
Despite those cases, government officials caution that the vast majority of refugees are in need of help and don’t pose a risk.
But Thiessen said that while it is important to help desperate Syrian refugees -- for instance by creating “safe zones” in the Middle East -- the refugee program is not the best way to help.
“We need to help these people, but admitting them into the U.S. is not the best way to do it,” he said.