ISIS plot to assassinate George Bush reminds us the border crisis security threat is real

By Todd Bensman on February 12, 2024

New York Post, February 12, 2024

A terrorist plot to smuggle an ISIS assassin team from Iraq across our southern border is wrapping up just in time to remind Americans the worst mass-migration crisis in US history comes with a high price: an elevated national-security threat.

The obscure federal prosecution of an Ohio Iraqi, Shihab Ahmed Shihab, for his plan to assassinate former President George W. Bush demonstrates better than anything that violent Islamic extremists have learned the US southern border has a wide-open back door.

So much so that President Biden’s own Justice Department prosecutors have just filed a memorandum in the concluding case arguing for a 15-year prison sentence and lifetime supervised release, with an aim far beyond Ohio and the United States.

Shihab pleaded guilty in December 2022 to one count of providing material support to terrorists, and prosecutors want jail time in the upper range.

“Such a lengthy sentence protects the public from Defendant and his lack of respect for the life of Americans,” wrote Jessica Knight, assistant US attorney for Ohio’s Southern District.

“Moreover, by enforcing accountability, we not only protect the wellbeing of intended victims, but the Court can send a clear message to the greater community, and world, if necessary, that such actions will not be tolerated” (my emphasis).

Court documents describe the southern border’s centrality in the plot to murder a former president in Texas, ground zero in a historic mass-migration crisis of 7.6 million apprehensions in 36 months, now in its fourth year.

Shihab, a self-proclaimed ex-ISIS fighter who flew into the country on a tourist visa and claimed asylum in 2020, immediately began plotting to smuggle at least four of his brethren in a group known as “Thunder” over the border from Brazil up through Central America and Mexico, the FBI says.

They were to cross but not turn themselves in, as so many millions have, for processing.

They would quickly don Border Patrol uniforms to avoid detection and reach the American interior, presumably as far as Dallas initially.

That would be no problem these days, because while 360 people on the FBI’s terror watchlist have been caught crossing the border since 2021, an estimated 2 million immigrants entered without being caught, so-called “gotaways.”

Shihab would have known their odds of entering undetected, even with terrorist records in the database, are far better than getting caught by Border Patrol agents far too busy processing those who’ve turned themselves in.

Once inside, the terrorists would take possession of Colt M16 rifles and Sig Sauer P226 pistols Shihab would provide for the Bush assassination.

The father of five children in Iraq, Shihab came to hate Bush and the United States for America’s 2003 invasion.

Investigators say Shihab joined terrorist cells and killed American troops until Syrian troops captured him; he lost everything, his home and business, in the war.

Afterward, he remained “politically active” in Iraq, the sentencing memo states, until he used a tourist visa to reach America in late 2020.

How US adjudicators missed his background remains a mystery the American people deserve answers on.

What we do know is he fancied himself a smuggler of jihadists over the southern border, motivated by profit, to be sure, but also an ideological hatred.

Shihab told FBI agents posing as co-conspirators he’d already brought two Hezbollah operatives over the southern border and knew how to bring in the ISIS operatives — for $40,000 each.

The case plays out amid increasing reports suggesting a systemic breakdown in counterterrorism programs at the border like those I detailed in my 2021 book, “America’s Covert Border War: The Untold Story of the Nation’s Battle to Prevent Jihadist Infiltration.”

Shihab clearly understood the border had become even easier for his terrorist crew to cross undetected since his 2020 arrival.

There was the release of a dangerous FBI-watchlisted terror suspect, a Lebanon-born Venezuelan who crossed into Brownsville but was cut loose on orders from Washington despite ardent FBI protests he remain in detention.

There was a Department of Homeland Security inspector-general report on the accidental release of watchlisted terror suspect from Colombia because border agents were too overwhelmed to follow regular procedures.

There was a watchlisted Yemeni caught in Mexico as he was about to cross who got released anyway without US advance warning, which prompted a manhunt for him.

Late last year, New York police arrested a Senegalese man wanted in his home country for “terrorist activities” who somehow got into the American interior.

And a Pakistani illegal immigrant on the watchlist was accidentally released before US authorities luckily caught up with him a day later.

These cases show border counterterrorism programs are floundering under the crush of humanity.

They are all the more reason the Shihab case should serve as a stark warning.

Thank God Shihab inadvertently recruited FBI informants, who set up a stateside sting that tracked his reconnaissance trip from Ohio to scope out Bush’s security arrangements in Dallas and showcase the weapons and uniforms to ostensible co-conspirators in a hotel room.

While most of that was set up, the ISIS operatives abroad and an ISIS leader in Qatar were quite real.

Indeed, FBI operatives worked hard, successfully, to dissuade Shihab from sending his surveillance photos to the Qatar group he was working with on the plot to avoid potentially useful intelligence information getting into enemy hands.

But while prosecutors hope a stiff sentence sends a message to overseas jihadis not to try a crossing, they’re swimming against powerful currents.

For one thing, most big legacy media are ignoring the case — liberal reporters and editors regard the threat as Republican fearmongering about illegal immigration — and probably won’t report the sentence.

But perhaps the strongest current prosecutors face is the fact hundreds of thousands of non-terrorist illegal immigrants are still pouring into America because of Biden’s lenient catch-and-release policies for 90% of all comers.

They’re sending home selfies as proof the Americans are letting them in.

They reflect the perfect camouflage Shihab no doubt envisioned for his Thunder operatives.