Two Iraqi refugees living in the U.S. have been arrested in Sacramento and Houston on federal terrorism charges and for lying to immigration officials.
Twenty-three-year-old Aws Mohammed Younis Al-Jayab and 24-year-old Omar Faraj Saeed Al Hardan, both Palestinians born in Iraq, were charged in separate cases on Wednesday.
Unsealed indictments released on Thursday by the Justice Department show that both men were born in Iraq and are of Palestinian background. Both were also granted refugee status as part of a program started for Iraqis in 2007.
Al-Jayab, who lives in Sacramento, came to the U.S. as part of the program in Oct. 2012. Al Hardan, who lives in Houston, came to the U.S. on Nov. 2, 2009.
The revelation of the two radicals’ refugee status comes amid bitter debate over whether to allow refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria to come to the U.S. The Obama administration wants to re-settle 10,000 Syrians while many Republicans — and a majority of the American public — oppose the plan.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, issued a statement following the announcement of the indictments.
“This is precisely why I called for a halt to refugees entering the U.S. from countries substantially controlled by terrorists,” Abbott said in a statement, The Houston Chronicle reported. “I once again urge the President to halt the resettlement of these refugees in the United States until there is an effective vetting process that will ensure refugees do not compromise the safety of Americans and Texans.”
According to an unsealed indictment, Al-Jayab allegedly traveled to Syria to fight with various terrorist organizations and lied about it to federal authorities. Al Hardan allegedly attempted to provide resources, training, expert advice and assistance to ISIS. He also offered to travel overseas to join the group.
The indictment states that between Oct. 2012 and Nov. 2013, while he was living in Arizona and Wisconsin, Al-Jayab communicated over social media with affiliates of various terrorist organizations. He allegedly discussed having experience with firearms and said that he had fought against the Syrian regime.
He also allegedly stated on social media between Nov. 2013 and Jan. 2014 that he was in Syria fighting with terrorist groups, including Ansar al-Islam, a radical Sunni group which merged with ISIS in 2014. Al-Jayab returned to the U.S. on Jan. 23, 2014 and settled in Sacramento.
In addition, Al-Jayab allegedly told a series of lies during an Oct. 6, 2014 interview with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. He falsely denied that he had ever been a member of a rebel group or militia, that he had ever provided material support to a terrorist group, or that he had threatened to use weapons against others. He also allegedly falsely claimed that he had traveled to Turkey in 2013 and 2014 to visit his grandmother.
As for Al Hardan, he was slapped with three counts for providing material support for terrorist groups and for making false statements during immigration interviews.Following his settlement in the U.S. in 2009, he was granted legal permanent residence status on Aug. 22, 2011 and sought to apply for citizenship. According to his indictment, Al Hardan falsely claimed on a citizenship application that he filled out on Aug. 18, 2014 that he was not affiliated in any way with terrorist groups.
But the indictment states that Al Hardan was affiliated with al-Nusrah Front, a designated terrorist group, in 2013 and 2014 and with ISIS beginning in 2014.
Al Hardan also had training with an automatic machine gun, a fact he denied in an Oct. 27, 2015 interview with a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent.
The Justice Department did not accuse either man of plotting an attack on the homeland.