Iraq-born Chasib Hafedh Saadoon Al Fawadi, his wife, and two minor sons applied for U.S. refugee status in Turkey and, after six months of ostensible security vetting, secured it right after a September 2015 personal interview with a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officer in Istanbul, required as a reform following the 9/11 attacks. Al Fawadi claimed he couldn’t return to Iraq because the Iran-backed extremist Shiite militia group Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) had tried to force him to participate in kidnappings.
The Al Fawadi family entered the United States in January 2016, settling initially in San Antonio, Texas, and later moving to Syracuse, N.Y., and, the requisite one year later for refugees, applied for lawful permanent resident green cards. But many months of prospective security vetting for his green card would not lead to revelations that Al Fawadi had served a virulently anti-American, Iran-backed paramilitary insurgent organization during the years when it mounted thousands of attacks on American soldiers in Iraq.
A 2020 FBI and ICE counterterrorism investigation later showed the 35-year-old Al Fawadi easily lied his way through both screenings despite his offering the clue that the AAH paramilitary militia had communicated with him about conducting violent criminal activity. The reality was that, since at least the age of 16, Al Fawadi had served AAH as an armed, trained, and uniformed insurgent right up until he applied for refugee status, and that he participated in the Iranian group’s extensive sabotage, kidnapping, political assassination, hijacking, and terrorism operations, according to court records and government press releases. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force, an entity designated by the United States as a terrorist organization, extensively funded and trained AAH, which claimed responsibility for 6,000 attacks against American and coalition forces since 2006, according to a State Department release announcing that AAH had been designated a terrorist group in 2020.
The FBI learned that Al Fawadi fought with and traveled far on behalf of AAH while it was attacking American troops. He fought in Syria on behalf of the government during the civil war with Sunni terrorist groups, spent time in Jordan, and traveled to Iran itself during his years with the group. During their investigation, the FBI found numerous photographs of Al Fawadi, dating to 2012 and 2013, with his AAH unit, wearing the AAH uniform, posing with a shoulder-fired rocket grenade launcher, receiving an award from the terrorist group’s leader Qais al-Khazali, manning a heavy machine gun in the bed of a pickup truck, and of him with his unit in front of the Damascus, Syria, international airport carrying a semi-automatic assault rifle over a shoulder, and in front of the Fatimah Masumeh Shrine in Qom, Iran.
How Al Fawadi was able to conceal all of this photographic evidence and personal history from USCIS refugee adjudicators in Turkey and later in the United States remains unclear. But undoubtedly his name would have been known to Iraqi or American intelligence services, which might have been detected with some checks. But even if Al Fawadi’s name was not known to allied intelligence services, his bogus claim that AAH members had communicated with him about kidnapping operations almost certainly should have triggered in-depth interviews of family and associates to turn up discrepancies in Al Fawadi’s proffered persecution narrative. And indeed, according to a government motion to keep Al Fawadi detained, federal prosecutors in New York pointed out that Al Fawadi told American screeners in Turkey that he had never traveled beyond Iraq and Turkey but slipped up a few years later in 2019 and told USCIS that he had traveled to Jordan, a significant discrepancy that should have triggered intense investigation, a denial of his LPR application, and deportation.
The court records do not indicate whether USCIS ever granted Al Fawadi’s lawful permanent resident green card, perhaps because of intervening domestic assault charges. But the records do make clear that security vetting by USCIS was not what uncovered his anti-American insurgency past. The FBI did not arrest him until October 2020 following a counterterrorism investigation.
“Based on discussions with an official from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services … it is government counsel’s understanding that Al Fawadi’s false statements about involvement in Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and travel to Syria and Iran are alone sufficient for Al Fawadi’s application for lawful permanent resident status to be denied and for him to be deported from the United States, all without regard to the outcome of this criminal prosecution,” federal prosecutors wrote in their motion to detain.
Although its outcome remains unclear, the 2017-2019 processing of Al Fawadi’s LPR application raises further questions as to why it lingered for so long and allowed Al Fawadi to pose a threat to his wife and American citizens.
Less than a year after settling in San Antonio as refugees, local police on November 20, 2016, arrested Al Fawadi for committing an aggravated assault with a deadly weapon (a knife) against his wife, who was pregnant with their third child, a government memorandum recounted. She told police this act was part of a long pattern of physical abuse but later declined to press charges. In April 2017, his wife reported to local police in Syracuse that Al Fawadi had kidnapped her for several days, beat her and held a knife to her throat again. A few months later, Al Fawadi applied for his green card, which was not denied then or possibly ever despite its pending for two years.
Instead, USCIS reviewers seem to have found no reason to deny it even after an April 9, 2019, interview with Al Fawadi, providing the opportunity for him to continue living inside the United States – and to allegedly abuse his wife. Twenty days after that USCIS interview, on April 29, 2019, local police arrested Al Fawadi and charged him with the first-degree rape of his wife, after which he repeatedly violated court protection orders to not contact her. USCIS officers would interview Al Fawadi about his application six months later, showing the application was still not denied and that his paramilitary past remained undiscovered during those months of prospective vetting. Any government knowledge of his AAH service would remain buried for many more months, until, evidently, Al Fawadi’s estranged wife had him arrested for rape and probably tipped off investigators.
Prosecutors believed that allowing Al Fawadi to live inside the United States posed a violent threat to all Americans, mainly because his AAH group had publicly vowed revenge operations in the United States for President Donald Trump’s January 3, 2020, drone strike assassination of Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani in Iraq. Prosecutors wrote in their motion to detain that:
“In short, Al Fawadi was an active member of a paramilitary organization whose mission and activities posed a sufficient threat to have it designated by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization. Although this designation is recent, it is based on activities that occurred when Al Fawadi was actively involved in the organization. When given an opportunity to acknowledge his participation and its nature, Al Fawadi instead responded with implausible falsehoods. It is reasonable to conclude from this evidence that Al Fawadi remains both unrepentant and committed to the violent objectives of this terrorist group.”
In September 2020, federal investigators arrested Al Fawadi on a three-count indictment alleging that he made false statements in the immigration applications. He was already in state custody on charges that he raped his wife, according to a government motion that Al Fawadi posed a flight risk and should be detained. In September 2021, Al Fawadi pleaded guilty to lying to USCIS on his refugee and LPR applications. Sentencing was pending as of November 2021, although the plea agreement provides for his deportation after his federal sentence and also after his New York rape case is adjudicated.