Waad Ramadan Alwan

Vetting Year
Time from U.S. Entry to Discovery
3 months*
National Security Crime Type
Nationality of Perpetrator
Immigration Status Type
Refugee classification
Agency Responsible for Failure
USCIS for Refugee classification
Opportunities Missed
Nation(s) Vetting Occurred
Arresting Agency
Criminal Charges
Conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals abroad, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction against U.S. nationals abroad, distributing information on the manufacture and use of IEDs, attempting to provide material support to terrorists, and conspiracy to transfer, possess, and export Stinger missiles
Case Outcome
Convicted 12/2011 for material support for terrorism
Case Summary

Iraqi national Waad Ramadan Alwan, while in Syria in 2009, applied for a refugee visa and received one that year after undergoing U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services security vetting. Within two years, the FBI arrested him and fellow resettled Iraqi refugee Mohanad Shareef Hammadi for the so-called “Bowling Green, Ky.” terrorism plot to send military-grade arms, such as surface-to-air Stinger missiles, to al Qaeda in Iraq.

Alwan, it turned out, had served from at least 2003 through 2006 as a quite discoverable violent anti-American al Qaeda terrorist by the time he defeated USCIS security vetting as part of his 2009 refugee application. Only a later FBI investigation that began after Alwan resettled on that visa in Bowling Green, Ky., found his fingerprints in an American biometrics database. The prints had been entered after U.S. soldiers on September 1, 2005, dug up a roadside gravel pile south of Bayji, Iraq, and found them on a cordless phone base wired to unexploded bombs.

In 2007, Alwan’s fingerprints again were entered into a U.S. military intelligence database as he fled through a border crossing to Syria. He was fleeing after becoming a wanted man in Iraq for his insurgency activities. Once in Syria, he took on the false persona of a persecuted refugee deserving resettlement in the United States, a Directorate of National Intelligence official was quoted as saying. USCIS vetting failed to notice the fingerprints and much else. The effort also did not discover what the FBI later did, that Iraqi forces in 2006 had arrested Alwan in Kirkuk, Iraq, and obtained extensive videotaped confessions that he was an insurgent who had participated in “numerous” improvised explosive device attacks against American soldiers, according to the U.S. military. Alwan at one point during the FBI investigation boasted to an undercover operative that he had worked as a sniper in Iraq, was known as an expert bomb-builder, and that “lunch and dinner would be an American”, according to an FBI agent affidavit.

He said he worked with a cell funded by Osama bin Laden (the predecessor to ISIS) and engaged in daily attacks against American soldiers for years. He also said he remained a jihadist dedicated to holy war against the United States, which took him in, but could not return to Iraq because he was officially “wanted” there for his past violent activities. He said he remained committed to finding ways to continue his jihad from the United States.

It was not visa security vetting but an intelligence tip in September 2009 that, not long after Alwan’s arrival in Bowling Green, prompted an FBI counterterrorism investigation. In another year, a complex undercover FBI operation eventually ensnared Alwan and Hammadi in a plot to arm and equip al Qaeda. Hammadi and Alwan went on during 2011 to ship on tractor-trailer trucks what they believed were hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of weapons, such as plastic explosives, fully automatic machine guns, sniper rifles, and rocket-propelled grenades, to al Qaeda but which were in reality inert props in an expansive undercover FBI operation.

In January 2013, a federal judge sentenced Alwan to 40 years in prison for his crimes.