(NEW YORK) — A group of at least 10 U.S. senators wants to know whether the government has any more information about a security breach that led to a six-month shutdown of the Iraqi refugee program five years ago, and whether the United States has information on any other suspected terrorists who might have used the refugee program to enter the United States.
The discovery in 2009 of two al Qaeda-Iraq terrorists living as refugees in Bowling Green, Kentucky — who later admitted in court that they’d attacked U.S. soldiers in Iraq — prompted the FBI to investigate thousands of improvised explosive devices in its archives to see whether fingerprints on the bombs could be traced to other suspected terrorists in the United States.
The director of the FBI’s Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center said at the time it was conducting “dozens” of such investigations.
The revelations were first made public during a 2013 ABC News investigation of the refugee program.
And in 2011, two years after revelations about the security breached surfaced, the State Department suspended the Iraqi refugee program altogether for six months. But the Obama administration did not tell Congress about that suspension at the time.
Now, a growing list of senators – all Republicans at the moment – want to know whether there are other former or current known terrorists in the United States whom the government might have become aware of as a result of the investigations that began in 2009.
“Our law enforcement and intelligence communities deserve great praise for stopping these terrorists from killing more Americans,” the senators write in a letter addressed to Secretary of State John Kerry and FBI Director James Comey, an early version of which was obtained by ABC News.
“Yet the terrorists should have never been given the chance.”
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees randomly resettled the two men in the United States, coordinating with the State Department and the DHS’ Citizen and Immigration Services bureau. A Kentucky branch of Catholic Charities also helped with the vetting of the two men, one of whom was sentenced to life in prison while the other got 40 years.
The ABC News report about the Iraqi refugee program has renewed resonance now as members of Congress debate whether and how to curtail the refugee program for individuals fleeing ISIS and the civil war in Syria. The Obama administration announced this year that it would accept 10,000 Syrian refugees.
According to the letter draft, the GOP senators, including Mark Kirk of Illinois, John Cornyn of Texas and David Vitter of Louisiana, are asking about the status of other possible terrorists in the United States and whether the incident led to any recommendations regarding the refugee program, as well as the findings from the FBI investigation on the other “dozens” of suspected terrorists.
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