By Chuck Ross
The process for Iraqi national Omar Adbulsattar Ameen to enter the U.S. was simple: All the suspected Islamic State fighter had to do was lie on his United Nations applications for refugee status and during interviews with U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) officials, according to the Department of Justice.
Ameen, who was arrested in California on Wednesday on an outstanding murder warrant in Iraq, claimed he was not a member of ISIS or al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). He also denied taking part in any terrorist or criminal activity in Iraq.
In order to meet the physical safety requirement to qualify as a refugee, Ameen, 45, claimed his father had been murdered while helping the American military and that his brother had been kidnapped by a terrorist group affiliated with radical cleric Muqtada al Sadr.
But all of that was a lie, according to the Justice Department.
Ameen was allegedly a member of ISIS. In 2004, before the rise of that brutal terror group, Ameen and his family helped start AQI, according to the DOJ. In addition to allegedly killing an Iraqi police officer, Ameen is suspected of planting IEDs and committing terrorist acts near his hometown of Rawah.
But Ameen appears not to have faced any rigorous questioning from the U.S. government about terror links and his criminal activities. Instead, he simply answered “no” to questions about his alleged ISIS and al Qaeda links while inventing a false narrative about his father and brother.
“Have you ever interacted with, had involvement with, or known any members of … Al Qaeda in Iraq … the Islamic State of Iraq or any other armed group or militia?” was one of the questions USCIS posed to Ameen.
“No,” he answered, according to Justice Department documents.
Ameen denied he had ever committed crimes in Iraq.
“In actuality,” according to the Justice Department, witnesses told the FBI that Ameen committed “numerous crimes ranging from robbery to placing [improvised explosive devices].”
“Ameen’s negative answers cut off a line of questioning relevant to his admissibility to the United States,” the Justice Department filing states.
“Based on the written and verbal answers given by Ameen, his refugee application was approved by USCIS on June 5, 2014.”
Ameen, who claimed to work as a truck driver, first applied for refugee status in Turkey in 2012. On June 21, 2014, less than three weeks after obtaining refugee designation, Ameen allegedly murdered Iraqi police officer Ihsan Abdulhafiz Jasim in Rawah, an ISIS stronghold.
Ameen then entered the U.S. on Nov. 4, 2014, settling first in Salt Lake City and then in Sacramento, where he was arrested on Wednesday. He will be extradited to Iraq to face charges of premeditated murder.
Ameen applied for a green card in 2016, which would have allowed him permanent resident status in the U.S. The FBI began investigating Ameen for visa fraud that same year. It is unclear from government filings when the FBI learned of Ameen’s alleged terrorist activities.
The ease with which Ameen obtained refugee status and entered the U.S. is “a sad illustration of the inherent problem in our vetting system,” Jessica Vaughan, an analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports policies limiting immigration, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
The U.S. government’s refugee vetting process has been a topic of intense debate during President Donald Trump’s tenure. Days after taking office, Trump ordered a ban on travel from several predominantly Muslim countries.
Iraq was initially on that list but removed at the request of Secretary of Defense James Mattis. The Supreme Court upheld a revised travel ban in June.
Trump critics accused the administration of discriminating based on religion. Trump supporters argued the ban was necessary to prevent terrorist acts on U.S. soil.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) established a National Vetting Center in February to screen all individuals applying for refugee status, visas and other immigration benefits.
“Last year, at the President’s direction, the U.S. Government implemented significant enhancements to the security of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program,” DHS spokesman Tyler Q. Houlton said in a statement when asked whether the Trump administration’s vetting requirements would have prevented Ameen from entering the U.S.
“Tighter screening and tougher vetting in the refugee program have already started to make Americans safer at home,” he continued. “This is just one example of how raising the bar on our security standards has directly increased our ability to protect and secure our nation from terror groups abroad.”
Vaughan said the refugee vetting process under the Trump administration has improved, “but it’s not foolproof.”
“That’s why we should assist by sending aid to them instead of visas,” she continued. “It shows how we cannot always rely on our own vetting, which is based on other countries’ records, which may be in accurate, inauthentic or simply unavailable.”
Eight witnesses told the FBI about his family’s connections to AQI and ISIS. One FBI witness also provided a death certificate for Ameen’s father, which showed that, rather than being murdered, he died on Dec. 25, 2010, from a blood clot.
But Ameen claimed on a refugee application submitted to USCIS that his father was “shot dead” while helping the American military transport portable houses. Ameen repeated the claim verbally under oath during an interview to obtain a green card.
“Not only did Ameen misrepresent the cause of his father’s death, but he also falsified the nature of his father’s involvement with AQI,” the government wrote. “By concealing the true nature of his father’s membership in AQI, Ameen misdirected USCIS away from its inquiry into any possible disqualifying ties to terrorism.”
Ameen also claimed on his refugee application that his brother’s home in Baghdad was raided by a group of “masked, black-clad men” affiliated with the terrorist group Jaish Al Mahdi in March 2012.
“According to Ameen, he feared persecution based on the kidnapping of his brother if he were to remain in Iraq,” the government wrote.
But Ameen’s brother was not apprehended by a terror group, according to the DOJ. Instead, he was arrested by authorities on terrorism charges. An Iraqi court issued an arrest warrant for Ameen and three of his brothers on Dec. 26, 2010.
“These two claims of past persecution formed the basis of Ameen’s acceptance as a refugee. By falsely claiming to be a victim of past persecution, Ameen created a narrative that resulted in approval of his refugee application,” the Justice Department said.
The government filing says that Ameen’s denials of having ties to ISIS and al-Qaeda “cut off a line of inquiry into his familial ties to terrorism.”
For Vaughan, the Ameen case is evidence of how easy it is for terrorists to skirt the vetting process.
“Bad actors can and do lie to get here,” she said.
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