Educating 'Engineers of Jihad' at US Universities

How the legal immigration system allowed four al-Qaeda-linked terrorists to attend U.S. colleges and roam free among us.

On November 5, 2015 the United States Department of Justice issued a press release, “Four Men Charged with Providing Material Support to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.”  The Indictment that charged these individuals with their crimes was filed on September 30, 2015 and unsealed on November 5, 2015.

While most people reading the headline would think of this as purely a disturbing story about terrorism, in reality it is at least as much a story about immigration -- not illegal immigration, but the legal side of the immigration system. Serious failures are endemic to the immigration system, but are seldom, if ever, reported on in the media or discussed by our political leaders. They were, however, reported in detail by the 9/11 Commission.

We will explore that nexus between immigration and the threat of terrorism shortly, but first, here is how the press release begins:

A four-count indictment was unsealed today in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Ohio charging four men with conspiring to travel to Yemen to provide thousands of dollars to Anwar Al-Awlaki in an effort to support violent jihad against U.S. military personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan and throughout the world.

The press release went on to state:

“The charges in this case outline a plan to send thousands of dollars to a known terrorist, a plan which came to fruition shortly before one of the most notorious attempted attacks in recent memory – an attack claimed by that same terrorist,” said U.S. Attorney Dettelbach.  “This indictment is a testament to the perseverance of those who stand watch over our nation and is a clear message to those who support terrorism – we will not forget and you will face justice.”

“In today’s world, Kansas is not far removed from the battlefields of the war on terror,” said U.S. Attorney Grissom.  “We will do everything in our power to prevent funding and material support from finding its way from the heart of America to terrorists in foreign lands.”

“These individuals conspired and then acted on their radical beliefs by providing support to a known terrorist organization,” said Special Agent in Charge Anthony.  “The identification of their conspiracy and the subsequent investigation demonstrate how members of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force continue to work with our international law enforcement partners to mitigate terrorist’s threats in order to protect our citizens.”

Farooq Mohammad was an Indian citizen who was an engineering student at Ohio State University between 2002 and 2004.  In or around March 2008, he married a U.S. citizen.  His brother, Ibrahim Mohammad, was also an Indian citizen who studied engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign from 2001 through 2005.  In or around 2006, he moved to Toledo, Ohio, and married a U.S. citizen.  He became a lawful permanent resident of the United States in or around 2007.

Asif Salim was a U.S. citizen who studied at Ohio State University between 2000 and 2005.  He became a resident of Overland Park, Kansas, in 2007.  His brother, Sultane Salim, is also a U.S. citizen who resided in the Chicago-area from 2006 through 2012, until he moved to the Columbus-area.

According to the indictment, from January 2005 through January 2012, the four defendants conspired to provide money, equipment and other assistance to Anwar Al-Awlaki. Al-Awlaki, a key leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, was designated a global terrorist in 2010.  The indictment also alleges that the defendants’ support was to be used in furtherance of violent jihad against the U.S. and U.S. military in Iraq, Afghanistan and throughout the world.

The defendants made various financial transactions in 2008 and 2009, and communicated about raising funds for a trip to the Middle East.  Allegations in the indictment charge that Farooq Mohammad and Ibrahim Mohammad obtained money by opening credit cards and withdrawing money with no intention of repaying the amounts obtained from the financial institutions.

The indictment further alleges that on July 22, 2009, Farooq Mohammad travelled with two other people to Yemen to meet Awlaki.  They were unable to meet with Awlaki, so instead travelled to Sana’a, Yemen, to meet with one of his associates.  Farooq Mohammad and his two fellow travelers gave the associate approximately $22,000 to be given to Awlaki.

Here is a thumb-nail profile of the four defendants who have been charged in this case, as noted in the news DOJ release:

Farooq Mohammad: an Indian citizen who was an engineering student at Ohio State University between 2002 and 2004.  In or around March 2008, he married a U.S. citizen.  

Ibrahim Mohammad: a brother of Farooq Mohammad was also an Indian citizen who studied engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign from 2001 through 2005.  In or around 2006, he moved to Toledo, Ohio, and married a U.S. citizen.  He became a lawful permanent resident of the United States in or around 2007.

Asif Salim: a U.S. citizen who studied at Ohio State University between 2000 and 2005.  He became a resident of Overland Park, Kansas, in 2007.  

Sultane Salim: brother of Asif Salim is also a U.S. citizen who resided in the Chicago-area from 2006 through 2012, until he moved to the Columbus-area.

For the purpose of beginning our consideration of the immigration component of the case we need to consider the first five allegations of the 72-page indictment:

1. At all times relevant to this Indictment, YAHYA FAROOQ MOHAMMAD (hereinafter "FAROOQ MOHAMMAD") was a citizen of lndia. From in or around 2002 to in or around 2004, FAROOQ MOHAMMAD was an engineering student at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Since in or around 2004, FAROOQ MOHAMMAD has been a resident of the United Arab Emirates. In or around March 2008, FAROOQ MOHAMMAD visited the United States and married a United States citizen. 

2.  At all times relevant to this Indictment, IBRAHIM ZUBAIR MOHAMMAD (hereinafter "IBRAHIM MOHAMMAD") was a citizen of India and the brother of FAROOQ MOHAMMAD: From in or around 2001 to in or around 2005, IBRAHIM MOHAMMAD was an engineering student at The University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois. In or around 2006, IBRAHIM MOHAMMAD became a resident of the Toledo, Ohio. In or around 2006, IBRAHIM MOHAMMAD married a United States citizen. In or around 2007, IBRAHIM MOHAMMAD became a Lawful Permanent Resident of the United States.

3.  At all times relevant to this Indictment, ASIF AHMED SALIM (hereinafter "ASIF SALIM") was a citizen of the United States. From in or around 2000 to in or around 2005, ASIF SALIM was a student at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. In or around 2007, ASIF SALIM became a resident of Overland Park, Kansas. Since in or around August 2011, ASIF SALIM has been a resident of the United Arab Emirates.

4.  At all times relevant to this Indictment, SULTANE ROOME SALIM (hereinafter "SULTANE SALIM") was a citizen of the United States and the brother of ASIF SALIM.  From in or around 2006 to in or around 2012, SULTANE SALIM was a resident of the Chicago, Illinois area.  Since in or around 2012, SULTANE SALIM has been a resident of the Columbus, Ohio area.

5.  At all times relevant to this Indictment, an individual known to the Grand Jury (hereinafter "Unindicted Co-Conspirator #1") was a citizen of the United States. From in or around 2000 to in or around 2004, Unindicted Co-Conspirator # 1 was an engineering student at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. From in or around June 2008 to in or around September 2009, Unindicted Co-Conspirator # 1 resided outside the United States in Malaysia and Egypt. Since in or around September 2009, Unindicted Co-Conspirator #1 has been a resident of Columbus, Ohio.

The significance of these initial allegations is that they address, at least partially, the immigration components of this investigation.  

The first defendant, Yahya Farooq Mohammad, a citizen of India, studied engineering at Ohio State University from 2002 until 2004 whereupon he apparently left the United States to reside in the United Arab Emirates.  It is unlikely that he completed his course of study.  This raises the question that, if he had been admitted on a student visa, did he actually attend classes at Ohio State University or did he enter the United States less than a year after the terror attacks of 9/11 for other purposes?  Certainly in the wake of the attacks of 9/11 concerns about foreign students from countries that have a potential nexus with terrorism should have been given careful scrutiny by immigration authorities.

Furthermore, he returned to the United States in March 2008 after an absence of approximately four years and subsequently married a United States citizen.  According to allegation 26 in the indictment, this was more than 3 years after he entered into a criminal conspiracy to provide material support to al-Qaeda.  Here is that allegation:

26.  From an exact date unknown, but at least as early as on or about January 1, 2005, and continuing until in or around January 2012, in the Northern District of Ohio, and elsewhere, the defendants YAHYA  FAROOQ MOHAMMAD, IBRAHIM ZUBAIR MOHAMMAD, ASIF AHMED SALIM, and SULTANE ROOME SALIM did knowingly and intentionally combine, conspire and agree with and among each other, and with and among others known and unknown to the Grand Jury, to provide material support and resources, and to conceal and disguise the nature, location, source, and ownership of material support and resources, to wit: property and services, including currency and monetary instruments, tangible property, services, and expert advice and assistance, knowing and intending that they were to be used in preparation for, and in carrying out, violations of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1114 (killing of officers and employees of the United States), 2332 (killing of U.S. nationals), and 2332b (acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries). 

This raises the question as to how he was able to enter the United States in 2008.  Did the FBI already know about his activities by 2008?  If so, did it provide information to CBP (Customs and Border Protection) to prevent him from entering the United States?

Did he, Yahya Farooq Mohammad, enter the United States on a student visa and fail to attend school?  Did he enter with a tourist visa and violate the terms of his admission?  Did he seek to acquire lawful immigrant status by engaging in a marriage fraud?  If this was the case, what was done with his application for residency?  Did his purported wife have a role in his terror-related activities?

Yahya Farooq Mohammad's brother, Ibrahim Zubair Mohammad, also a citizen of India, had apparently entered the United States on a student visa to pursue engineering courses of study from 2001 until 2005 at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois.  It is alleged he acquired lawful immigrant status in or about 2007, presumably through his marriage to an American.  Did USCIS or ICE conduct an investigation into the bona fides of this marriage or did he enter into a sham marriage simply to get a green card and perhaps, ultimately U.S. citizenship and a U.S. passport?

Again it is important to know when the FBI became aware of the involvement of these individuals with a terror-related conspiracy and, if so, shared that information with USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) the agency that adjudicates all such immigration applications and petitions.

This statement is contained in Chapter 12 of the 9/11 Commission Report:

For terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons. Terrorists must travel clandestinely to meet, train, plan, case targets, and gain access to attack. To them, international travel presents great danger, because they must surface to pass through regulated channels, present themselves to border security officials, or attempt to circumvent inspection points.In their travels, terrorists use evasive methods, such as altered and counterfeit passports and visas, specific travel methods and routes, liaisons with corrupt government officials, human smuggling networks, supportive travel agencies, and immigration and identity fraud. These can sometimes be detected.

That chapter of the 9/11 Commission Report also contained the following statement:

All but one of the 9/11 hijackers acquired some form of U.S. identification document, some by fraud. Acquisition of these forms of identification would have assisted them in boarding commercial flights, renting cars, and other necessary activities.

The significance of that assessment of the 9/11 Commission caused me to cite that statement in my article for my March 9, 2015 article for the Daily Caller, "Congress Has Fully Funded The DHS — America’s Biggest Document Mill."

It is important to note that the indictment alleges that all of these co-conspirators began their plotting in 2005. Ibrahim Zubair Mohammad was afforded lawful immigrant status in 2007 --  more than two years after he entered into what is alleged to be a criminal conspiracy involving his providing material support to a terror organization.  Allegation 26 of the indictment notes that these terrorists entered into an agreement with one another and others (not identified) in support of terrorism as early as January 1, 2005.  What is important about that starting date is that more than three years after Ibrahim Zubair Mohammad allegedly entered into the terror conspiracy, he was able to enter the United States and marry an American citizen.

It would be important to know how he entered the United States and if Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had been notified by the FBI about his involvement in a terror-related activities.

It would be important to know what was done to investigate the information contained in his immigration application to make certain that he did not commit fraud.  Also, it is disconcerting that he has had a green card for more than seven years.  It is likely that his lawful immigrant status and his green car facilitated his nefarious activities.

Did the immigration adjudication process fail to identify his involvement in a terror plot?  If so, what, if anything, is being done to address this obvious failure?

On September 10, 2015 FrontPage Magazine published my article, “Educating Our Adversaries -- Why educating foreign STEM students is bad for American workers and national security.”

You don't have to take my word for this. Consider the following allegations (56-58) from the DOJ indictment -- clearly terrorists understand the value of acquiring engineering degrees:

56.  On or about January 30, 2008, FAROOQ MOHAMMAD sent an email to IBRAHIM MOHAMMAD with the subject line "a comment." In this email, FAROOQ MOHAMMAD included a comment from an online fonun discussing the paper "Engineers of Jihad." The comment, as provided by FAROOQ MOHAMMAD, stated, "Engineers are over-represented in many groups of people who achieve tangible results. If you want books about politics and economics, go to those faculties. If you want electric light, sewers, drinking water, cheap travel or X-rays, ask an engineer. If you want something kno.cked down or blown up, ask an engineer. Away from the world of glowing pixels and dissertations on Proust there's m10ther world of people who know how to do stuff. Those people will always be over-represented if you look at results and under-represented if you are interested in talk." Following this comment in the email, FAROOQ MOHAMMAD stated,":-) ... engineers rule."

57.  On or about January 30, 2008, FAROOQ MOHAMMAD sent an email to Unindicted Co Conspirator #1 with the subject line "Engineers and J word." In this email, FAROOQ MOHAMMAD stated, "Looks like they've found us out:)." The email also provided a link to an identified website, registered to FAROOQ MOHAMMAD, where a file entitled "Engineers of Jihad" had been uploaded.

58.  On or about January 31, 2008, FAROOQ MOHAMMAD sent an email to IBRAHIM MOHAMMAD and an identified individual, known to the Grand Jury, with the subject line "Re: Fw: a comment." In this email, FAROOQ MOHAMMAD stated, "Thus their surprise mid confusion when they see the 'terrorists' are highly educated mid affluent. They may have the best researchers mid psychologists, but they'll never figure it out lmtil they understand the concept of loving the [afterlife] more than the [material world]. The reason for educated people being over represented is simply as Allah ... says ... : 'Those who truly fear Allah, among His Servants, are those who have knowledge.' As to. why engineers particularly are the majority, I don't know. But I do like that fact:)." 

The other two defendants, Asif Ahmed Salim and his brother, Sultane Roome Salim, were identified as United States citizens. However, the phrase “at all times relevant to this Indictment” that begins the description of all four defendants and the unindicted co-conspirator may mean that they could have become acquired United States citizenship through the naturalization process before they entered into the criminal conspiracy.  Furthermore, the fact that most of them were identified as having resided in Middle Eastern countries raise the possibility that if they acquired United States citizenship by having been born in the United States that their parents may well have immigrated to the United States.

This is only the most recent in a long string of cases involving terrorists who gamed the immigration system to enter the United States, conduct their operations and used the vulnerabilities of the immigration system -- most often the legal side of the immigration system, including the ability to enter the United States via the inspections process conducted at ports of entry and acquire lawful immigration status. On a number of occasions they were not only able to obtain lawful immigrant status, but United States citizenship as well.

The title of my November 10, 2014 commentary for Californians for Population Stabilization was a double entendre and will serve as my last word on the infuriating situation we find ourselves in today with politicians, journalists and others refusing to accept what should, by now be obvious: the need to secure our borders and effectively enforce our immigration laws is urgent.  “Lack of Intelligence in Failures to Enforce Immigration Laws.”

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