Here‘s a look at four major claims of faraway terrorism stirring in America’s southern frontier. In some of those cases, at least, officials actually attempted to provide evidence, with varying success.
MEXICO CITY — Hezbollah crossed from Tijuana into the United States. A member of Somali extremist group Al Shabaab was deported from Mexico. An Al Qaeda operative appeared in Honduras. The list of allegations runs on.
When Texas Gov. Rick Perry said last week the Islamic State (IS) could have crossed over the Rio Grande, he sparked quick denials from the Pentagon and Mexican government.
However, his comment is only the latest in a series of claims by US officials since 9/11 that radicals from the Middle East to the Horn of Africa have taken advantage of Mexico’s porous borders and the networks of gun, drugs and human trafficking stretching into the Americas.
Some have been pure speculation. Others are downright bizarre. But others have appeared to be true, and there have been arrests, convictions and deportations of people in Mexico for alleged links to groups designated as terrorists.
Perry made his controversial statement at Washington’s Heritage Foundation on Thursday.
“There’s the obvious great concern that, because of the condition of the border from the standpoint of it not being secure, and us not knowing who is penetrating across, that individuals from ISIS or other terrorist states could be,” said Perry, who recently sent National Guard troops to the border, using another name for IS. “There’s a very real possibility that they may have already.”
Perry was quickly knocked back by both the Pentagon’s top spokesman and Mexico’s Foreign Secretary Jose Antonio Meade, who pointed out there was no proof whatsoever to back up this claim.
“There is no evidence that supports the beliefs expressed by the governor,” Meade said Saturday. “Mexico makes its public policies on the basis of information and analysis and condemns those that make policy based on speculation.”
Perry himself conceded there’s “no clear evidence” for his assertion.
Security analyst Sylvia Longmire also said that Perry was being irresponsible throwing out such speculation without evidence.
“It’s fearmongering,” says Longmire, author of “Border Insecurity.”
“[This] is political grandstanding, it is all for show.”
However, Longmire says that evidence for other claims — like the one that affiliates of Hezbollah have used Mexico to enter the United States — is much stronger.
In prior cases, even outlandish allegations of cross-border terrorist activity have been followed by successful attempts to prove them.
Here‘s a look at four of the major claims, some of which have more evidence than others.
Claim 1: Hezbollah supporters sneaked in from Tijuana
In 2002, Mexican police, using US intelligence, arrested Tijuana cafe owner Salim Boughader Mucharrafille and accused him of helping smuggle 200 of his Lebanese compatriots, including Hezbollah affiliates, into the US. One client worked for a Hezbollah-owned television station; another raised $40,000 in the US for the Shia Islamic organization, according to FBI documents cited by the Associated Press. In 2008, a Mexican court convicted Boughader Mucharrafille and gave him a 60-year prison sentence.
Claim 2: Al Qaeda approached Mara street gangs
In 2004, then Honduran Security Minister Oscar Alvarez claimed the Al Qaeda operative Adnan G. El Shukrijumah met with members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang in his country’s capital of Tegucigalpa. According to Alvarez, Al Qaeda wanted to hire gang members to attack US embassies in Central America.
The Maras boast tens of thousands of heavily armed members across Central America and the US.
However, no further evidence of the strange alliance was reported.
Claim 3: Al Shabaab hoarded explosives in Mexico City
In June 2010, Mexican marines raided a house in Mexico City’s La Roma neighborhood, close to the US Embassy. Later, a leaked report from the marines cited by media outlets said the house contained about 50 pounds of explosive material and detonators. They had discovered the stash by following a Somali national who worked for Al Shabaab, the report said.
The Mexican marines issued a statement denying the veracity of the report. However, an official at the US Embassy confirmed to GlobalPost that an alleged Al Shabaab operative had been deported from Mexico that year.
Furthermore, in May 2010, the Department of Homeland Security asked Houston police to be alert for an Al Shabaab operative who may have traveled through Mexico. And in that same month, a flight from Paris to Mexico was grounded in Canada so that a Somali passenger could be ordered off that plane and handed to US officials.
Claim 4: Iranian agents tried to hire Zetas cartel
In 2011, US Attorney General Eric Holder claimed that federal agents had foiled a bizarre plot by Iranians to hire members of Mexico’s ultra-violent Zetas drug cartel to attack Saudi and Israeli targets in Washington and Argentina. However, the plot never progressed as the Iranians — including a car salesman and an alleged officer of Iran’s elite Quds Force — unwittingly tried to hire informants from the Drug Enforcement Administration posing as Zetas, Holder said.
Iran’s government said it was outraged by the accusations. However, there was some speculation the Iranians involved were rogue elements. In 2013, a Manhattan court sentenced one of them to 25 years in prison.