If Donald Trump believes that banning immigrants from countries with a history of terrorism will improve U.S. national security, then he faces a tough sell with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Stephen Miller, Trump’s policy director, told the Wall Street Journal on Monday that the presumptive GOP nominee believes that the “best way to prevent continued radicalization from developing inside America is to suspend temporarily immigration from regions that have been a major source for terrorists and their supporters coming to the U.S.”
Delivered a fortnight after the Orlando nightclub massacre — perpetrated by New York-born closet case and/or ISIS-inspired extremist Omar Mateen—this was meant to contextualize Trump’s earlier comment, made last December after the terror atrocity in San Bernardino, that as president he would implement “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the U.S. until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.” It’s a policy prescription his surrogates in the press, notably campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson, insisted he never made.
Leaving aside the fact that Miller’s elaborated definition of an immigration moratorium would, in theory, affect all citizens from Ireland, France, Germany, Spain and a host of other countries with a history of non-Islamic terrorism—not to mention also snare those Western countries that have for decades suffered from Islamist radicalization problems of their own—what, exactly, would such a controversial policy do for mitigating the ISIS menace to the American homeland?
Not much, as it turns out.
Three FBI agents specializing in counterterrorism, speaking on background to The Daily Beast, all shook their heads “no” when asked if a temporary immigration band would make their jobs any easier. Most of the credible ISIS cases the bureau has investigated, or the plots it’s been able to disrupt, have come from American-born suspects, one special agent told me.
A study of aspirational or successful ISIS attacks in the West between 2014 and 2015, most of them in the United States, certainly bears out this assessment.
Terrorism specialist Robin Simcox, formerly at the London-based Henry Jackson Society (where I also used to work) and now at the Washington, D.C.-based Heritage Foundation, counted a dozen ISIS plots in the United States between 2014 and 2015 (albeit before San Bernardino), some of them involving multiple suspects and all of them “inspired” by the jihadist organization rather than directly coordinated by it.
In only one instance, Simcox found, was a suspected terrorist not born in America, and in that instance she was longtime a U.S. citizen. Many of the alleged terrorists weren’t even born Muslim, much less did they have Arab or Middle Eastern ancestry. Rather, they were white converts to Islam.
Zale Thompson, for instance, a 32 year-old American convert, attacked four NYPD officers with a hatchet, injuring two, in October 2014 before he was shot and killed. He had a history of criminality allegedly connected to domestic disputes and had been dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Navy in 2003. As best authorities can tell, all he ever knew of jihad came from the Internet; he’d never gone to Syria or Iraq, nor had he ever expressed a desire to do so.
In January 2015, Christopher Lee Cornell, another American-born convert from Cincinnati, had no prior scrapes with the law but was arrested on suspicion of plotting to blow up the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. and shoot people inside. He was only caught because his would be co-conspirator, whom he met via Twitter, turned out to be an FBI informant.
In March 2015, two cousins, Hasan and Jonas Edmonds, were nabbed while attempting to send the former from Chicago to Egypt, where he’d then smuggle himself into Syria. Their contact was an undercover FBI agent masquerading as an ISIS fixer. Unlike most suspects in Simcox’s database, Hasan Edmonds did indeed have combat training: he was a Specialist in the Illinois Army National Guard, and Jonas was apparently going to attack the facility at which he trained, using his cousin’s military uniform. Jonas was also an ex-con; he served five years for armed robbery in Atlanta.
In April 2015, former roommates Asia Siddiqui and Noelle Velentzas were arrested in Queens for plotting to convert propane gas tanks into bombs, following the instructions of The Anarchist Cookbook, al-Qaeda’s Inspire magazine and YouTube. Velentzas was from Florida and of Greek and Puerto Rican descent; she was also homeless and may have begun her flirtation with Islam while sheltered at the Islamic Circle of North America. Siddiqui, however, was born in Saudi Arabia but was a longtime U.S. citizen.
Tennessee-born John T. Booker, another convert, enlisted in the U.S. Army in February 2014. A month later, he started posting scary messages to Facebook indicating his desire to be “to be killed in jihad.” He was interviewed by the FBI and confessed that he joined the army to wage holy war against the United States. He lost his military clearance but there wasn’t enough evidence to indict him with any crime; instead, federal informants later approached him and he expressed an interest in blowing up Fort Riley in Kansas. He rented a storage locker and kept bomb-making supplies there. He was arrested on April 10, 2015. He’d wanted to travel to Syria and Iraq but never got that far.
How about the guys who tried to shoot up that Mohammed cartoon event in Garland, Texas in May 2015 but were killed by police not long after getting their first rounds off?
Thirty year-old Elton Simpson was born in Illinois; 34 year-old Nadir Soofi was born in Garland. They were at one point roommates in Phoenix, Arizona. Simpson, who had been under FBI surveillance for almost a decade owing to his ties to another famously pledged loyalty to ISIS “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi using Trump’s favorite medium Twitter, under the hashtag “texasattack”.
Usaamah Rahim, his nephew David Wright and Nicholas Rovinski, whom Wright met on Facebook, all conspired to behead anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller. Rahim, who was shot by police he’d allegedly approached wielding in a knife in Roslindale, Massachusetts on June 2, 2015, was originally from Brookline. Rovinski grew up in Rhode Island.
Munther Omar Saleh and Fareed Mumuni, both American-born New Yorkers, were arrested in June 2015, along with a third unnamed coconspirator, for trying to build a pressure cooker bomb. All three tried to stab their surveilling or arresting officer or FBI agent with knives. Saleh was enrolled in the Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology, in Queens. Mumuni was studying to be a social worker at the College of Staten Island.
That same month, Justin Nojan Sullivan, from Morganton, North Carolina, had lots of ambitious schemes, including conducting “minor assassinations” before waging a “big attack.” He was contacted by an undercover FBI agent who offered to send him a homemade silencer for the assault rifle Sullivan intended to buy at a gun show, which weapon he intended to use to shoot up a bar or concert. When the silencer arrived in the mail, Sullivan was collared.
Sheffield Lake, Ohio resident Amir Said Abdul Rahman al-Ghazi converted to Islam in prison, where he did time for drug-related offenses. He claimed to have been inspired by the Boston Marathon bombers and purchased an AK-47 from an undercover FBI agent.
Alexander Ciccolo, the mentally unbalanced son of a Boston police captain, was also inspired by the marathon attackers, so much so that he intended to detonate pressure cooker bombs at local colleges. When he was arrested in July 2015, he’d kept Molotov cocktails and knives at his apartment.
Finally, 23 year-old Harlem Suarez told an FBI informant that he was going to bury a bomb in the sands of Key West and kill beachgoers. The bomb he received was a dud constructed by the FBI. He was arrested in July 2015.
True, the San Bernardino attack was perpetrated in part by the Pakistani-born Tashfeen Malik, but she came to California on an H1-B visa, pegged to her marriage to her Chicago-born husband and co-assailant Syed Rizwan Farook. Moreover, Enrique Marquez, Jr., the man accused of supplying the rifles used by the Bonnie-and-Clyde of American jihad to shoot up 14 people at the Inland Regional Center on December 2, 2015, was also a natural-born citizen of the United States. He is thought to have been introduced to radical Islam by his fellow American and former neighbor, Farook.