Ali Yousif Ahmed Al-Nouri

Vetting Year
Time from U.S. Entry to Discovery
9 years, 11 months*
National Security Crime Type
Nationality of Perpetrator
Immigration Status Type
Refugee classification; Lawful Permanent Residence; Naturalized Citizenship
Agency Responsible for Failure
USCIS for Refugee classiciation, Lawful Permanent Residence and Naturalized Citizenship
Opportunities Missed
Nation(s) Vetting Occurred
Arresting Agency
Criminal Charges
Iraqi government has charged him with two counts of murder
Case Outcome
Extradiction proceedings pending on two Iraq murder counts
Case Summary

Iraqi national Ali Yousif Ahmed Al-Nouri came to the United States in 2009 after vetting as a refugee in neighboring Syria. He became a lawful permanent resident in about 2010 and, in 2015, a naturalized citizen, for a total of three security screenings. He lived in Phoenix, Ariz., and worked as a “cultural advisor” at U.S. military bases and also operated a driving school in Phoenix until his 2019 arrest.

Ten years after entering as a refugee, however, on May 12, 2019, an Iraqi judge issued an arrest warrant and extradition request for Al-Nouri on claims that he was leader of an al-Qaeda assassination cell that targeted Iraqi police officers in Fallujah, Iraq. The 2020 extradition case was still pending as of March 2023, and although Al-Nouri stated that he was innocent of the Iraqi charges and that Iraqi witnesses have given conflicting, discreditable testimony, a federal judge in Phoenix in April 2022 certified his extradition.

According to information provided by Iraq’s government, Al-Nouri’s al-Qaeda group allegedly shot and killed a first lieutenant in the Fallujah Police Directorate and a police officer on about June 1, 2006, and on October 3, 2006, respectively. On January 30, 2020, the U.S. government filed a complaint and arrested Al-Nouri on probable cause that the cultural advisor who worked with the U.S. military inside military bases inside the United States was actually an al-Qaeda assassin.

Security vetting by USCIS – at the times Al-Nouri applied for U.S. refugee status in 2009, as well as for his LPR and citizenship applications in subsequent years – apparently failed to pursue several lines of inquiry available that may have led to a denial of any one of the three immigration benefits.

Basic background investigation reasonably would have uncovered that, as U.S. prosecutors now allege in a complaint, a member of the al-Qaeda cell captured in 2006 – three years before Al-Nouri received refugee status – had identified him to Iraqi authorities as the cell’s “emir”, or leader. “Cooperator I” gave Iraqi authorities extensive details about Al-Nouri and the cell’s assassination operations. A check with Iraqi or American governments likely would have turned up this information.

Cooperator I’s 2006 intelligence information about Al-Nouri as a terrorist cell leader should have been available to USCIS adjudicators stationed in Iraq for the asking and, probably, from American military intelligence there, too, the presumption being that Iraq at the time regularly shared such terrorism intelligence with U.S. agencies.

Apparently, there was a fourth vetting opportunity, too. This one involved a security screening by the Department of Defense, a precondition for Al-Nouri to work as a "cultural adviser" on military bases, according to his defense attorney during a May 2020 detention hearing, readable in a transcript of it (page 35). Al-Nouri passed that one, too.

Among other red flags that USCIS reviewers should have seen and pursued in reviewing all three applications is that, as described in more recent court record allegations, Al-Nouri had given U.S. officials “conflicting” accounts about how he received gunshot wounds in Iraq before he fled to Syria as a refugee and also why, after he arrived in Syria, the government there imprisoned him for a time prior to his moving to the United States. It should be presumed that the American or Iraqi government had checkable derogatory intelligence information about Al-Nouri prior to his 2009 refugee status grant and, even more certainly, in the years afterward when he applied for a change in status to LPR in 2010 and, finally, citizenship in 2015.

Had adjudicators done due diligence, merely the allegations that he committed murder and ran a terrorist cell would have preempted years of Al-Nouri residing inside the United States while hiding an allegedly murderous terrorist past, not to mention that as far as adjudicators could know, he might have posed a more general threat to other Americans.

However, only as a result of the Iraqi government’s extradition request did more recent Department of Justice and federal law enforcement investigations discover the terrorism allegations.