Only weeks after a white supremacist domestic terrorist murdered ten people in Buffalo, New York, a report revealed that the FBI stopped a plot to assassinate former President George W. Bush. But in this case, the perpetrators of this planned assassination were not US nationals – they were members of the Islamic State (ISIS). Though the story hasn’t received nearly as much media attention as the recent shootings, it serves as a reminder that America is still facing threats from abroad.
Federal authorities accused an Iraqi man residing in the United States of having connections to ISIS operatives engaged in a plot to assassinate President Bush. He is alleged to have traveled to Dallas, Texas, in November to film video footage around the former president’s residence. The FBI states this individual was “recruiting a team of compatriots he hoped to smuggle into the country over the Mexican border,” Forbes reported after examining the search warrant application the bureau filed in March.
The suspect, Shihab Ahmed Shihab, is an Iraqi national who has been residing in Columbus, Ohio, since 2020. He currently has an asylum application pending. FBI agents collaborated with two different confidential sources to investigate the scheme. One “claimed to offer assistance obtaining false immigration and identified documents,” while the other was “a purported customer of the alleged people smuggler, who was willing to pay thousands of dollars to bring his family into the country,” according to the Forbes report.
The plot’s alleged mastermind is believed to be part of a cell called “Al-Raed,” which translates to “Thunder.” A former pilot for Saddam Hussein, based out of Qatar before his recent demise, is believed to have headed the operation. Forbes explained that “[a]s many as seven members of the group would be sent to the U.S. to kill President Bush, according to a conversation described in the warrant, and the Shihab’s job was ‘to locate and conduct surveillance on former president Bush’s residences and/or offices and obtain firearms and vehicles to use in the assassination.’”
The FBI discovered the details of the plot through Shihab’s WhatsApp account. The confidential sources passed messages to the bureau without his knowledge. In October, one of the informants gave Shihab a phone at the agency’s behest. He was an avid user of the app and participated in Baath and ISIS chat groups.
This alleged plot to smuggle terrorist assassins into the United States through the southern border is nothing new. Indeed, many have sounded the alarm on the potential risks resulting from open borders policies. Author Todd Bensman published a piece for the Center for Immigration Studies year describing how border authorities have encountered migrants coming from areas of the world that are “bristling with Islamic terrorist organizations.”
“We encounter individuals from all over the world attempting to illegally enter our country,” said Del Rio Sector Chief Patrol Agent Jason D. Owens. “Our agents are focused and work hard to ensure that we detect, arrest, and identify anyone that enters our country in order to maintain safety of our communities.”
Bensman explained that extremists enter the United States “by flying to South America and then getting themselves smuggled through an 80-mile bottleneck stretch of jungle between Colombia and Panama known as the Darien Gap.”
The author further explained that “Tajiks, Uzbeks, Syrians, Pakistanis, Somalis, Bangladeshis, Mauritanians, and many others from terrorism-plagues nations” are coming through the Darien Gap to the southern border and cautioned that “America’s ability to learn whether they are friend or foe is no sure bet.”
Even in 2015, government officials warned about the relationship between terrorist organizations and drug cartels. General John Kelly, when he headed US Southern Command, told Congress that Islamic extremists had been radicalizing Muslims and others in Latin America. ISIS, in particular, was planning to work with drug traffickers to smuggle their operatives into the United States across the southern border.
The FBI last year declared that right-wing domestic terrorism was a threat to national security. However, this operation shows the bureau is still focused on dangers coming from other countries. Even though ISIS was severely weakened when Donald Trump was in office, the extremist group remains operational. While domestic threats still exist, it is clear America must also remain vigilant when they comes from foreign actors as well.