Views From Kennewick

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Keith Ellison’s Dangerous Liaisons
By Joe Kaufman | June 1, 2007

Anti-Semitism and Keith Ellison seem to gravitate toward one another. It was the case throughout the 90’s, when he was heavily active in the Nation of Islam (NOI), and it was the case just last weekend, when he gave the keynote address at the 4th Annual Convention of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota. It’s a disturbing pattern from someone that purports to be a man of peace and, more importantly, someone sitting in the position of United States Congressman.

In May of 2006, then-candidate for House of Representatives, Keith Ellison, faxed a letter to the Executive Director of the Minnesota Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), Stephen Silberfarb, stating, “There has been much speculation about my past connections to the Nation of Islam… I have long since distanced myself from and rejected the Nation of Islam due to its propagation of bigoted and anti-Semitic ideas and statements, as well as other issues. I have a deep and personal aversion to anti-Semitism regardless of its source and I reject and condemn the anti-Semitic statements and actions of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, and Khalid Muhammed.”

Indeed, although he has since denied it, Ellison was involved with NOI for ten long years. In that time, he participated in NOI rallies, including the Million Man March hate fest; he defended NOI hate speech; and he used such NOI aliases as Keith Hakim, Keith X Ellison, and Keith Ellison-Muhammad.

Ellison’s written denouncement of NOI and its representatives was welcome, but his actions after the message was sent were highly suspicious.

Shortly after he issued the letter, Ellison allowed the National Executive Director of CAIR, Nihad Awad, and its National Chairman, Parvez Ahmed, to donate and raise thousands of dollars for his campaign. CAIR or the Council on American-Islamic Relations is a creation of the former American propaganda wing of Hamas, the terrorist organization dedicated to “implementing Allah’s promise” of “fighting the Jews” and “killing them,” as is stated in the group’s charter. Awad, himself, had pledged his support for Hamas and had stated, in September of 2000, “They [the Jews] have been saying ‘Next year in Jerusalem’ – we say ‘Next year to all Palestine.’”

Following the election, Ellison continued to cavort with CAIR, addressing its November 2006 banquet, in addition to speaking at events sponsored by other groups connected to terrorism. This past weekend was no different, as he was the featured speaker at the 4th Annual Convention of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota.

The Muslim American Society or MAS was incorporated, in June of 1993, in the state of Illinois. It was established by leaders of the radical Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun), the group that was responsible for the founding of such terrorist organizations as Al-Qaeda, Hamas, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Today, it mostly acts as an activist organization, holding conferences and youth camps throughout the United States.

The Minnesota chapter of MAS, the chapter that Ellison addressed, has striven to uphold the Ikhwan legacy, by propagating materials authored by past Brotherhood leaders, like Hassan Al-Banna (Egypt MB founder), Sayyid Qutb, and Syed Abul Ala Maududi (Pakistan MB founder). Within these works, which are located via the group’s “Online Library,” one finds heated discussions about waging jihad, what MAS-Minnesota terms “holy battle,” against non-Muslims. One reads, “A Muslim must always worship Allah and wage jihad until death in order to reach his ultimate goal, although the goal is invisible and it takes a long time to achieve. Therefore the steadfast Muslim will achieve this goal either through a lifetime of effort or through sudden death as a martyr… Regularly make the intention to go on jihad with the ambition to die as a martyr. You should be ready for this right now, even though its time may not have come yet.”

As well as verses about murderous jihad, one discovers on MAS-Minnesota’s website a general obsession the group has with regard to Jews, including an entire section devoted to the “STONING TO DEATH OF JEWS AND OTHER DHIMMIS.” Some anti-Semitic statements on the site [there are too many to repeat] include:

  • “The Holy Prophet (and through him the Muslims) has been reassured that he should not mind the enmity, the evil designs and the machinations of the Jews, but continue exerting his utmost to establish the Right Way in accordance with the Guidance of the Quran.”
  • “In view of the degenerate moral condition of the Jews and the Christians, the Believers have been warned not to make them their friends and confidants.”
  • “If you gain victory over the men of Jews, kill them.”
  • “The Hour will not be established until you fight with the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say, ‘O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him.’”
  • “May Allah destroy the Jews, because they used the graves of their prophets as places of worship.”

Additionally, MAS-Minnesota’s website contains laudatory declarations towards Hamas. In an article on the site, entitled ‘Priorities of The Islamic Movement in The Coming Phase,’ Hamas is described as a “steadfast, brave, aware Islamic resistance movement.” It goes on to say, “Hamas is an embodiment of the Palestinian People’s belief in its Muslim and Arab origins, and a testimony that this people is still alive and will never die and that its jihad will be carried on by pure hands and clean hearts until victory is achieved with the will of Allah.” The piece was written by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an individual that has been banned from the United States, due to his support for suicide bombings.

Prior to Ellison, there have been politicians who have been involved with hate groups. Robert Byrd, a United States Senator, was once a leader – Exalted Cyclops – in the Ku Klux Klan. Unlike Byrd, though, Congressman Ellison continues to surround himself with those that spread the most vile hatred, even while in office.

This is of grave concern. Not only is it a conflict of interest for a member of the U.S. House of Representatives to participate with such groups, but it is, as well, an issue of national security. Those in positions of power must demand an end to Keith Ellison’s dangerous and bigoted associations. Either that or they must insist on his resignation.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Our current state of affairs certainly begs the question as to whether we can really afford to ignore costly lessons from history. One would think that we learned something from the murderous attack launched against us during the predawn hours of December 7th, 1941.

The first wave of 181 warplanes departed from six Japanese carriers to strike our fleet at Pearl Harbor and surrounding military airfields. At 7:00AM, the incoming squadrons appeared on the screens of the Army radar station at Opana. News of the steady-bearing contacts was immediately relayed up through the chain of command. However, senior officers falsely attributed those sightings to the anticipated echoes of returning American planes and never sounded the appropriate alarms a costly assumption that contributed to the death toll of some 2400 servicemen.

Six decades later, three commercial airliners were commandeered by militant Islamist deviants and flown into their intended targets resulting in the deaths of 3000 innocent Americans. Once again, our nation was caught off-guard and paid a hefty price for underestimating an adversarys resolve and capacity to do us grievous harm.

One could reasonably argue that we havent learned much from past mistakes and intelligence failures.

America is currently engaged in a deadly war that has the potential to last for decades and cost millions of innocent lives. Most experts agree that a far more deadly attack is imminent a catastrophic strike involving a combination of tactical nuclear and/or radiological dirty weapons. Yet, Washington refuses to take legitimate actions to secure our homeland that is, to properly identify the enemy, seal our borders and inoculate a number of terrorist-front groups that freely operate on our soil; subversive organizations that seek our destruction, spread seeds of hatred, fundraise for the enemy, support international acts of terrorism, recruit thousands of disgruntled home-growns and prepare scores of their followers to perpetrate acts of violence.

Of greater concern is the administrations failure to come clean with the American people regarding numerous terrorist hits that we have already suffered attacks both leading up to and following 9/11.

For unknown reasons, Federal law enforcement agencies continue to misrepresent barbaric acts of violence as being anything other than Islamist-inspired a reckless policy that, in the long run, will only cost more lives. Theres no legitimate reason to hide the truth from our citizenry while blood hemorrhages in various locations across America. An educated, vigilant society will only make our shopping malls, highways, houses of worship, college campuses and federal buildings safer to visit. Additionally, surviving family members deserve to know what really happened to their loves ones.

While in a holding pattern awaiting the unthinkable news of simultaneous nuclear detonations occurring in major U.S Cities our State Department is reaching out to those same terrorist-host nations that are conspiring to exterminate us. If that isnt enough, the Department of Education is in the process of opening twenty Arabic-teaching schools for Muslim students across America, Kansas City International Airport recently installed foot baths to accommodate Muslim travelers and several federal agencies (including the FBI and TSA) have contracted with CAIR (a terror-friendly Islamic advocacy group) to provide sensitivity training to their field agents and employees.

For a variety of reasons, neither can we expect the truth to flow from mainstream media channels. In fact, issues concerning national security and terrorism are typically subordinated to far more important topics like the regeneration of Britney Spears hair follicles, Rosie ODonnells personal self-destruction and paternity testing for Anna Nicoles orphaned infant child.

Just how many more innocent adults and children have to perish before America comes to its senses regarding this very Real and menacing threat?

According to our nations leading counter-terrorism experts, its far later in the game than most folks realize, for the enemy has accomplished much in terms of their infiltration and entrenchment on our soil. These radical Islamist barbarians truly believe that America is theirs for the taking. Theyre convinced that their imperialistic drive to conquer our nation is far stronger than our willingness to fight for whats rightfully ours. Unfortunately, theyre probably right since just a scant few of us are willing to make the necessary sacrifices to resist these cretins at any cost.

Their victory would mean the end of the United States and the end of the free world as we know it. To them, it is not about politics, it is about religion, a radical religion where the law allows for beheadings, stoning and maiming; a radical religion that uses terror as its tool of choice to keep the masses in line.

Americas Truth Forum, a non-partisan, non-profit (501(c) 3) organization, is committed to bringing the truth about the threat of radical Islam to the American people. The government wont do it. The media wont do it. That leaves us.

There isnt a better time to draw a line in the sand, take a stand and be heard.

For three years, Americas Truth Forum has been recognized as being on the very cutting edge - a leader in this struggle to awaken our citizenry to militant Islams menacing threat. Our ability to continue the fight and confront this evil in earnest greatly depends upon outside support. We need your generous help.

Americas Truth Forum, in conjunction with Basics Project, will be hosting another educational symposium that will bring together the most important voices on the subject of Islamofascism. This critical event, the third in a national series, has been scheduled for October and will feature world-renown speakers with extensive knowledge and first-hand experience. If plans hold, the event will not only prove most provocative but will generate substantial media attention.

In order to make this most crucial event happen, we need your financial support. We are firmly committed to the task of bringing the truth about the threat that Islamofascism poses to the American people to the American people. Lets not allow Washington to continue ignoring history and repeating costly mistakes.

Please help us to help America and support this most righteous cause. Please either visit our site at and contribute via the Paypal link or forward your donation to:

Americas Truth Forum
P.O. Box 802
Glastonbury, CT. 06033

Where the battle against the aggressive totalitarianism of Islamofascism is concerned, it is well past the time to act. If we allow politics to infiltrate the process of disseminating fact-based information the truth about the lethal foe we face we risk repeating the mistakes made in the waning days of Vietnam only this time the genocide may very well happen to us...on American soil.

Failure is not an option. To quote Winston Churchill:

If you will not fight for right when you can easily win without blood shed; if you will not fight when your victory is sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may even be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves.


Jeffrey Epstein, President


I'm Tired

Two weeks ago, as I was starting my sixth month of duty in
Iraq, I was forced to return to the USA for surgery for an injury I sustained prior to my deployment. With luck, I'll return to Iraq to finish my tour.

I left
Baghdad and a war that has every indication that we are winning, to return to a demoralized country much like the one I returned to in 1971 after my tour in Vietnam. Maybe it's because I'll turn 60 years old in just four months, but I'm tired:

I'm tired of spineless politicians, both Democrat and Republican who lack the courage, fortitude, and character to see these difficult tasks through.

I'm tired of the hypocrisy of politicians who want to rewrite history when the going gets tough.

I'm tired of the disingenuous clamor from those that claim they 'Support the Troops' by wanting them to 'Cut and Run' before victory is achieved.

I'm tired of a mainstream media that can only focus on car bombs and casualty reports because they are too afraid to leave the safety of their hotels to report on the courage and success our brave men and women are having on the battlefield.

I'm tired that so many Americans think you can rebuild a dictatorship into a democracy overnight.

I'm tired that so many ignore the bravery of the Iraqi people to go to the voting booth and freely elect a Constitution and soon a permanent Parliament.

I'm tired of the so called 'Elite Left' that prolongs this war by giving aid and comfort to our enemy, just as they did during the Vietnam War.

I'm tired of antiwar protesters showing up at the funerals of our fallen soldiers. A family who's loved ones gave their life in a just and noble cause, only to be cruelly tormented on the funeral day by cowardly protesters is beyond shameful.

I'm tired that my generation, the Baby Boom --
Vietnam generation, who have such a weak backbone that they can't stomach seeing the difficult tasks through to victory.

I'm tired that some are more concerned about the treatment of captives than they are the slaughter and beheading of our citizens and allies.

I'm tired that when we find mass graves it is seldom reported by the press, but mistreat a prisoner and it is front page news.

Mostly, I'm tired that the people of this great nation didn't learn from history that there is no substitute for Victory.

Joe Repya,
Lieutenant Colonel, U. S. Army
101st Airborne Divisio

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Breaching America: War refugees or threats?

Web Posted: 05/20/2007 12:51 AM CDT
Todd Bensman
San Antonio Express-News
First part of a four-part series

DAMASCUS, Syria — Al Nawateer restaurant is a place where dreams are bartered and secrets are kept.

Dining areas partitioned by thickets of crawling vines and knee-high concrete fountains offer privacy from informants and agents of the Mukhabarat secret police.

The Mukhabarat try to monitor the hundreds of thousands of Iraq war refugees in this ancient city, where clandestine human smuggling rings have sprung up to help refugees move on — often to the United States.

But the refugees who frequent Al Nawateer, gathering around Table 75 or sitting alone in a corner, are undaunted, willing to risk everything to meet a smuggler. They come to be solicited by someone who, for the right price, will help them obtain visas from the sometimes bribery-greased consulates of nations adversarial or indifferent to American security concerns.

The deals cut at places like Al Nawateer could affect you. Americans from San Antonio to Detroit might find themselves living among immigrants from Islamic countries who have come to America with darker pursuits than escaping war or starting a new life.

U.S.-bound illicit travel from Islamic countries, which started long before 9-11 and includes some reputed terrorists, has gained momentum and worried counterterrorism officials as smugglers exploit 2 million Iraq war refugees. The irony is that the war America started to make itself safer has forced more people regarded as security threats toward its borders.

A stark reminder of U.S. vulnerability at home came this month when six foreign-born Muslims, three of whom had entered the country illegally, were arrested and accused of plotting to attack the Army's Fort Dix in New Jersey.

What might have happened there is sure to stoke the debate in Congress, which this week will take up border security and immigration reform. But the Iraqi refugee problem provides a twist on the question of what assurances America owes itself in uncertain times: What do we owe Iraqis thrown into chaos by the war?

Politically, immigration can be a faceless issue. But beyond the rhetoric, the lives of real people hang in the balance. A relatively small but politically significant number are from Islamic countries, raising the specter, some officials say, of terrorists at the gate.

For those few, the long journey to America starts at places like Al Nawateer.

The restaurant's reputation as a meeting place is what drew Aamr Bahnan Boles.

Night after night, Boles, a lanky 24-year-old, sat alone eating grilled chicken and tabouli in shadows cast by Al Nawateer's profusion of hanging lanterns. Boles always came packing the $5,000 stake his father had given him when he fled Iraq.

Boles was ordering his meal after another backbreaking day working a steam iron at one of the area's many basement-level garment shops when he noticed a Syrian man loitering near his table. The Syrian appeared to be listening intently. He was of average build and wearing a collared shirt. Boles guessed he was about 35 years old.

When the waiter walked away, the Syrian approached Boles, leaned over the cheap plastic table and spoke softly. He introduced himself as Abu Nabil, a common street nickname revealing nothing.

"I noticed your accent," the Syrian said politely. "Are you from Iraq?"

Boles nodded.

"I could help you if you want to leave," the Syrian said. "Just tell me when and where. I can get you wherever you want to go."

For an instant, Boles hesitated. Was the Syrian a Mukhabarat agent plotting to take his money and send him back to Iraq? Was he a con artist who would deliver nothing in return for a man's money?

"I want to go to the USA," Boles blurted.

"It can be done," said the Syrian. But it wouldn't be cheap, he warned. The cost might be as high as $10,000.

Hedging against a con, Boles said he didn't have that kind of money.

The Syrian told him there was a bargain-basement way of getting to America. For $750, he could get Boles a visitor's visa from the government of Guatemala in neighboring Jordan.

"After that you're on your own," the Syrian said. "But it's easy. You fly to Moscow, then Cuba and from there to Guatemala."

The implication was obvious. The Syrian would help Boles get within striking distance of the U.S. border. The rest was up to him.

Boles knew it wouldn't be easy or quick. Not until a year later, in fact, in the darkness just before dawn on April 29, 2006, would he finally swim across the Rio Grande on an inner tube and clamber up the Texas riverbank 40 miles west of Brownsville.

But Boles was undaunted. He cut a deal with the Syrian, setting in motion a journey into the vortex of a little-known American strategy in the war on terror: stopping people like him from stealing over the border.

River of immigrants

Near the tiny Texas community of Los Indios, the Rio Grande is deep, placid and seemingly of little consequence.

But its northern bank is rigged with motion sensors that U.S. Border Patrol agents monitor closely, swarming whenever the sensors are tripped.

Here and all along the river, an abstract concept becomes real. America's border with Mexico isn't simply a political issue or security concern. It is a living body of water, surprisingly narrow, with one nation abutting its greenish-brown waters from the north and another from the south.

Since 9-11, the U.S. government has made guarding the 1,952-mile Mexican border a top priority. One million undocumented immigrants are caught each year trying to cross the southern and northern U.S. borders.

Because all but a tiny fraction of those arrested crossing the southern border are Mexican or Central American, issues of border security get framed accordingly and cast in the image of America's neighbors to the south. Right or wrong, in this country the public face of illegal immigration has Latino features.

But there are others coming across the Rio Grande, and many are in Boles' image.

People from 43 so-called "countries of interest" in the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa are sneaking into the United States, many by way of Texas, forming a human pipeline that exists largely outside the public consciousness but that has worried counterterrorism authorities since 9-11.

These immigrants are known as "special-interest aliens." When caught, they can be subjected to FBI interrogation, detention holds that can last for months and, in rare instances, federal prison terms.

The perceived danger is that they can evade being screened through terror-watch lists.

The 43 countries of interest are singled out because terrorist groups operate there. Special-interest immigrants are coming all the time, from countries where U.S. military personnel are battling radical Islamist movements, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and the Philippines. They come from countries where organized Islamic extremists have bombed U.S. interests, such as Kenya, Tanzania and Lebanon. They come from U.S.-designated state sponsors of terror, such as Iran, Syria and Sudan.

And they come from Saudi Arabia, the nation that spawned most of the 9-11 hijackers.

Iraq war refugees, trapped in neighboring countries with no way out, are finding their way into the pipeline.

Zigzagging wildly across the globe on their own or more often with well-paid smugglers, their disparate routes determined by the availability of bogus travel documents and relative laxity of customs-enforcement practices, special-interest immigrants often converge in Latin America.

And, there, a northward flow begins.

Breaching America: Continued, part 2

Web Posted: 05/20/2007 12:01 AM CDT

Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Homeland Security and a former assistant director of the FBI, said the nation's vulnerability from this human traffic is unassailable — even if not a single terrorist has ever been caught.

"This isn't a partisan issue," McCraw said. "If the good guys can come, you know, then so can the bad guys. We are at risk."

Though most who cross America's borders are economic migrants, the government has labeled some terrorists. Their ranks include:

Mahmoud Kourani, convicted in Detroit as a leader of the terrorist group Hezbollah. Using a visa obtained by bribing a Mexican official in Beirut, the Lebanese national sneaked over the Mexican border in 2001 in the trunk of a car.

Nabel Al-Marahb, a reputed al-Qaida operative who was No. 27 on the FBI's most wanted terrorist list in the months after 9-11, crossed the Canadian border in the sleeper cab of a long-haul truck.

Farida Goolam Mahammed, a South African woman captured in 2004 as she carried into the McAllen airport cash and clothes still wet from the Rio Grande. Though the government characterized her merely as a border jumper, U.S. sources now say she was a smuggler who ferried people with terrorist connections. One report credits her arrest with spurring a major international terror investigation that stopped an al-Qaida attack on New York.

The government has accused other border jumpers of connections to outlawed terrorist organizations, some that help al-Qaida, including reputed members of the deadly Tamil Tigers caught in California after crossing the Mexican border in 2005 on their way to Canada.

One U.S.-bound Pakistani apparently captured in Mexico drew such suspicion that he ended up in front of a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay.

"They are not all economic migrants," said attorney Janice Kephart, who served as legal counsel for the 9-11 Commission and co-wrote its final staff report. "I do get frustrated when people who live in Washington or Illinois say we don't have any evidence that terrorists are coming across. But there is evidence."

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection apprehension numbers, agents along both borders have caught more than 5,700 special-interest immigrants since 2001. But as many as 20,000 to 60,000 others are presumed to have slipped through, based on rule-of-thumb estimates typically used by homeland security agencies.

"You'd like to think at least you're catching one out of 10," McCraw said. "But that's not good in baseball and it's certainly not good in counterterrorism."

Other federal agencies besides the Border Patrol have caught thousands more of the crossers inland after it was discovered they were in the country illegally, including 34,000 detainees from Syria, Iran, Sudan and Libya between 2001 and 2005, according to a homeland security audit last year of U.S. detention centers for immigrants. Then there is an unknown number caught by Mexico — an inveterate partner, as it turns out.

Texas accounts for a third of all the special-interest immigrants caught by the Border Patrol since 9-11, including 250 apprehended between March 2006 and February.

Efforts to stop the traffic are, in some ways, beyond U.S. control. Corrupt foreign officials and bureaucrats in Latin American consulates and in the Middle East have sold visas. Others hand them out without taking U.S. security concerns into account.

Anti-U.S. sentiments run deep in nations across the globe, creating steppingstones to America for those whose illicit travel plans sometimes are abetted with delight.

The story of Boles' journey to America — born over a plate of tabbouleh, orchestrated by a polite smuggler and culminating with an early-morning river crossing at Los Indios — serves as a lens on the pipeline and raises troubling questions.

If an Iraqi Christian with few resources and little more on his mind than fleeing a war for a better future in America can make his way from a designated state sponsor of terror like Syria for less than $4,000, then why couldn't a well-financed Muslim terrorist of equal determination?

Who else besides Boles has crossed the Rio Grande, and with what intent?

The answers figure to inform public policy for years to come.

Top U.S. political leaders have repeatedly cited the prospect of terrorist infiltration to double public expenditures on the borders from $4 billion in 2001 to more than $10 billion now; to deploy National Guard units; and to launch nationally divisive immigration reform.

Lesser-known American enforcement initiatives abroad have involved the CIA, the FBI, the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard and Drug Enforcement Administration agents.

(The FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Washington, D.C., did not reply to phoned and written requests for comment on this series.)

Many question the extent of the threat, especially opponents of various immigration-control proposals.

There is evidence, primarily a decline in traffic, that the border crackdown is discouraging illegal immigration. Would-be immigrants in Guatemala and Syria told the San Antonio Express-News they didn't want to risk getting caught and so had decided not to try crossing the border.

For a terrorist who wants to infiltrate, "It is high risk, being smuggled in, because there is an active effort to clamp down," said Laura Ingersoll, an assistant U.S. attorney in Washington who has prosecuted many smuggling rings.

A newly declassified Homeland Security Department survey of 100 captured Iraqi, Somali and Eritrean migrants cites intelligence that al-Qaida planners view border infiltrations as a "secondary" alternative to entering legally with official documents.

Though the Texas Legislature this month passed Gov. Rick Perry's $100 million border-security proposal, some lawmakers have belittled the idea that terrorists might blend in as a politically expedient cover for a racist anti-Mexican agenda.

Texas Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, who commanded a National Guard unit in the Laredo area, said Middle Eastern immigrants don't worry him because they only come across in "onesies and twosies."

"Is it possible that someone could cross our border and come into Texas and do bad things? Absolutely." Noriega said. "But then you have to deal with probability. I'm extremely skeptical of painting the picture that the reason we're doing border security is so terrorists don't come across. I don't think you scare the public using 9-11. That's a little old."

The strangers within

Noriega's reservations notwithstanding, few in America question whether U.S. policymakers and counterterrorism officials should react somehow to the influx of immigrants from Islamic countries. As the Fort Dix case suggests, there are strangers among us whose hearts may ultimately be unknowable.

Among the defendants in the Fort Dix case, all of whom are from the former Yugoslavia and the Middle East, three were in America illegally, reportedly having crossed the Texas border near Brownsville with their families as children in 1984.

Uncertainty about the allegiance of immigrants is illustrated by the Boles case.

Who or what is he and why did he come to America?

How can his story be vetted, his mind and motives plumbed?

Boles told U.S. authorities that he is a Chaldean Christian from the Iraqi town of Bartella, near Mosul — a persecuted ethnic minority with origins in the Eastern Christian tradition but with long ties to the Roman Catholic Church.

A federal prosecutor in South Texas would test Boles' religious beliefs by grilling him about the Bible, Jesus and Christian practices such as communion.

Here's the story of Boles' life as he tells it.

Before the Iraq war, he, his parents, two sisters and brother scraped by on what was left of a once-productive farm that had been mostly confiscated by the regime of Saddam Hussein and distributed to Sunni Arab Muslim herders.

His father and brother ran a taxi service to bring in extra cash.

After the war started, Islamic extremists began preying on Iraqi Christians, uprooting them from schools, jobs and businesses, often on the charge that they were "infidels" collaborating with U.S. forces. The extremists kidnapped some Christians and killed others, focusing on the men.

As Boles later would say, "The Muslims would decapitate me for belonging to Christianity."

In January 2004, Boles' father sent him to Syria with a large portion of the family's savings: $5,000. It was enough, perhaps, to buy passage to America, where he would be safer.

Six months later, Boles' brother died in a car crash and his father ordered him not to return, lest he lose his only remaining son. A kidnapped uncle was murdered even though the ransom was paid.

Boles never had given much thought to living in America, though he had an uncle in Sterling Heights, Mich. And it wouldn't be easy leaving Syria; the heavily fortified U.S. embassy in Damascus, which has been the target of suicide bombing attempts that ended in gunbattles, wasn't giving out many visas.

Boles was trapped.

As did hundreds of thousands of others who fled to Damascus when sectarian violence in Iraq broke out, he had settled in among the tiny tenement apartments in a suburb known as Jaramana.

Locals today call the neighborhood "Little Fallujah" because of the influx of Iraqis. Small Iraqi-run bakeries, Internet cafes, hair salons and laundry cleaners had sprung up all over town, many of them bearing the Iraqi national flag painted on their windows.

Boles lived on the sixth floor of a building that housed a garment shop where he worked 12-hour days ironing clothing bound for the big markets, or souks, of Damascus. Even though such shops are all over Little Fallujah, Boles was lucky to find a job in one. Steady-paying jobs anywhere in Syria are hard to come by and jealously guarded by working-class Syrians.

For most refugees, returning to Iraq was, then as now, out of the question. So was staying in Syria and Jordan, where local economies couldn't absorb them. But almost every other country in the world, including the United States, was handing out legal visas only grudgingly.

Not surprisingly, smugglers had picked up the slack.

Breaching America: Continued, part 3

Web Posted: 05/21/2007 02:37 PM CDT

The smuggling business in Damascus and Amman was deep underground. Smugglers and their agents hovered in the shadows of places like Al Nawateer, at the Iraqi bakery just up the street and at the brothels where Iraqi women catered to Iraqi men.

Refugees tell of well-oiled Arab mafias, based in South Africa; of an Iraqi Kurdish group living in Sweden that fields recruiters in Jordan; and of local Syrian groups that specialize in guiding paying clients into Turkey and Greece, which are considered launching pads for illegal passage to any other country in the world.

Refugees with little or no means are left to register with the United Nations, apply for visas and resign themselves to the real possibility of never leaving. But for those who have enough money, there are many ways to escape.

"They're here. They're everywhere," said Joseph Dauvod, an elderly Iraqi refugee who once paid a smuggler to get him to the U.S. but got caught crossing the Turkish border. "It's just that no one knows who they are until they approach you. I know so many people who have left that way from here."

Ahmad Ali, a 21-year-old Iraqi Sunni Muslim living in Amman, has made several attempts to get himself and his mother to Sweden, whose lenient asylum laws and immigration regulations have made it the most popular destination in Europe for Iraqi refuges.

Ali said he paid a local smuggler $4,000 last year to get him into Sweden, but border guards arrested everyone in his group.

In March, he said, he and his mother traveled on legal visas to Turkey to try again. In Istanbul, he connected with an Arab smuggling group based in South Africa. His mother paid $16,000 for her own passage to Stockholm.

"It was all-inclusive, hotel, food, plane tickets to Stockholm," Ali said.

The group delivered, as part of the package, Ali said, "a legal, original Venezuelan passport," which his mother used to board a plane from Turkey to Stockholm. When she landed in Stockholm, she destroyed the passport, claimed political asylum and is laying plans to get her last son, Ali, to Sweden.

Such stories abound in the streets and coffee shops of Syria and Jordan. Those who are actively in the market know the price lists well enough to recite them by heart.

"If you are an Iraqi and you stand by the corner of the Grand Mosque (in the Old City of Damascus), they'll come right up to you and say, 'When do you want to go?'" said Omar Emad, an Iraqi refugee who has been unable to save enough money to pay a smuggler.

"All you have to do is stand there."

Smugglers are known to offer discounts to persuade travelers to cross at the Texas border instead of California. The Texas border, at least in recent times, was considered more porous and the journey through Mexico less risky.

Smugglers also offer needy clients sliding pay scales. American court records from a half-dozen smuggling prosecutions show that well-heeled Middle Eastern travelers have paid upward of $25,000 a person for illegal passage through Latin America to get over U.S. borders. Often, they have entered through Canada — after first arriving in Latin America, like Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia.

Many routinely paid smugglers $8,000 to $10,000 a person. Whatever the cost, many of the trips can't be done for anyone — rich or poor — without the vital enabling role of foreign embassies or consulate offices, often those of Latin American nations that are based in the Middle East.

Boles, who earned about $180 a month at his steam iron, worked for only one reason: to protect his precious bundle of U.S. dollars that he knew was the key to America's back door.

And they disappear

The man who would help Boles leave Syria probably was a small independent operator or a recruiter for larger organizations that paid commissions.

They met at Al Nawateer, a restaurant popular with young lovers and businessmen as well as refugees.

The smuggler, who said his name was Abu Nabil, offered to take Boles' Iraqi passport to Jordan and get it stamped at a Guatemalan consulate office. The two men would meet again, they resolved, when the smuggler returned to Damascus, with Boles forking over $750 for his stamped passport.

They agreed to the deal and parted ways — each leaving Al Nawateer, Boles probably forever.

Al Nawateer's friendly, backslapping manager, Haithem Khouri, remembers Boles and how he vanished. It's not unusual. Table 75, for instance, is a gathering place for larger groups from which patrons simply disappear.

"They come in every day to eat, drink and then, one day, they're just missing and I ask, 'What happened?'" Khouri said.

But he knows, or has a pretty good idea. Those who vanished went to America. Or Europe. Refugees themselves tell of friends and whole families happily reporting back from new homes half a globe away. Those who leave almost invariably do so without saying goodbye because advertising their illegal travel plans would imperil smuggler and refugee alike.

Boles did not see Abu Nabil again for two months. Then one day the smuggler rang his cell phone. When the call came, Boles was resting in his small dormitory-style apartment. The walls were bare, and there was a radio.

"I have your passport," the smuggler said. "Where do you want to meet?"

They met outside Al Nawateer. It was dark. Boles opened his passport under a streetlight and saw that it was indeed stamped with a three-month visa to Guatemala. It looked official, but he wondered aloud if it was real.

"It's real," the man assured Boles. "And no one will ask any questions in Guatemala."

Boles handed the smuggler $750 and the two went their separate ways.

Boles had known better than to ask the question that had been on his mind for weeks. Why would Guatemala, of all countries, keep a consulate office in the Middle East that was willing to hand out visas to Iraqis when few others would?

The answer is that some foreign embassies and consulate offices based in the Middle East have no qualms about providing Iraqis and local citizens with visas that enable them to get within striking distance of a U.S. border. One of them is the Guatemala consulate office in Jordan.

The consulate is about 150 miles southeast of Damascus, in Amman. A blue and white national flag of Guatemala snaps atop a 20-foot flagpole on a busy street in the financial district. The flag advertises the presence in a strip shopping center of Guatemala's "Honorary Consul" in the Kingdom of Jordan: Patricia Nadim Khoury, who represents Guatemala's foreign affairs from a home-furnishings shop catering to Amman's wealthy.

This is the only place that Boles' smuggler could have secured a real Guatemala tourist visa.

One day recently, Khoury, a petite auburn-haired woman who appears to be in her mid-30s, sat behind a heavy oak desk as workers finished renovating the store.

She wore a blue denim jacket with slacks and a red sweater tied around her waist.

After agreeing to a brief interview, Khoury said she was born in Guatemala and took over honorary consul duties from her father when he died seven years ago. Most people who apply for visitor's visas, she said, are Jordanians, Syrians and a few Iraqis.

Several thousand Palestinians, Jordanians and other Arabs, as well as their descendants, have lived in Guatemala City for decades.

The country's rules for acquiring tourist visas require applicants to show bank statements for three months and demonstrate that they have credit cards. Citizens of the U.S. and most European countries can apply by mail.

Although it's unclear whether Iraqis and other Middle Easterners are required to personally appear to apply, Khoury said she interviews every applicant before issuing a visa, in part to determine whether they are trying to cross illegally into the U.S.

"I don't give visas to people who don't come personally here." Khoury also said she requires bank statements and other documents from applicants in addition to the personal interviews.

When asked how Boles and several other Iraqis might have obtained Guatemala visitor's visas from her office without showing up, Khoury offered, "Maybe it's not a legal visa."

Khoury said she would not accept payment in exchange for issuing visas to an unqualified applicant and that no one ever offers.

"If someone came and asked, I would kick him out," she said. "I can maybe get the police."

A mile away, another honorary consul spoke freely of how money makes things happen in a society where bribes are an accepted means of doing business.

"I've been offered lots of money — thousands of dollars," said Raouf N. El-Far, a Jordanian businessman who was appointed Mexico's consul to Jordan in 2004.

The bribe offers come from Iraqis, Syrians and Jordanians, many of whom openly disclose plans to get themselves smuggled over the U.S. border once in Mexico, El-Far said. One man recently offered to pay him $10,000 to secure a tourist visa for an Iraqi. If all went well, the man said, he would bring El-Far 10 Iraqis a month at the same price, a pipeline amounting to $100,000 in bribes every 30 days.

Is he tempted by such offers?

El-Far chuckled. "Yes, I am," he said.

But, then, turning serious, he said he does not take bribe money "because it's against my principles."

Under U.S. pressure after 9-11, El-Far said, Mexican intelligence services for the first time conducted a background investigation on a Jordanian consul. The check, he said, was so thorough "they wanted to know how many times I kissed my wife before I go to bed."

Khoury and El-Far acknowledged granting visas on a regular basis to Middle Easterners who meet the requirements for documentation. But they said they can't thoroughly check the veracity of the papers and the travelers' stated plans.

"It's not my business to guard against this," Khoury said.

The U.S. Justice Department has prosecuted nearly a dozen major smuggling rings that specialized in moving Middle Eastern clients since 9-11.

The majority of the smugglers planned to bring their clientele into South American countries, such as Ecuador, Peru and Colombia, and Guatemala, to prepare them for the final trip north.

Smugglers could simply buy visas outright from corrupt consular or embassy officials, according to these court records. For example, before U.S. and Mexican authorities shut his organization down, Salim Boughader-Mucharrafille, a Mexican national of Lebanese descent, smuggled hundreds of fellow countrymen from Tijuana into California. The scheme involved bribing Mexican consular officials.

Venezuela is another jumping-off point to the American border, according to court records of smuggling cases.

Because of its antagonistic relationship with the United States, Venezuela does not cooperate on counterterrorism measures, according to the U.S. government, and shows no concerns about issuing visas to special-interest migrants.

One day recently, the Venezuelan Embassy in Damascus, its walls bedecked with large portraits of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, was packed with Syrians seeking one of nine types of visas offered.

The U.S. State Department has complained in recent years about Venezuela's cozy relationship with Syria and Iran. Earlier this year, the first nonstop flights began from Tehran, Iran, to Caracas, Venezuela — a development that some U.S. counterterrorism specialists say opens a new avenue for potential terrorists to the American border.

Some of the government's most senior Homeland Security officials have spoken of yet another source of terrorist infiltrators: the area where Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina meet, known as the "Tri-Border" region.

Tens of thousands of Arab immigrants there have been under scrutiny by American intelligence services since 9-11. The U.S. Treasury Department in December named people and organizations that "provided financial and logistical support to the Hezbollah terrorist organization."

Last year, Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, commander of the U.S. Army's Southern Command, warned the House Armed Services Committee that some of these groups "could move beyond logistical support and actually facilitate terrorist operations."

Kephart, the lawyer who served as counsel to the 9-11 Commission and co-wrote the final report, testified in March 2005 before the Senate Judiciary Committee about a classified document she'd seen while serving on the commission.

She said the document, which since had been declassified, was a Border Patrol report about meetings in Spain between members of al-Qaida and a Colombian guerrilla group. A topic of discussion at the meeting, Kephart said, was the use of Mexican Islamist converts to infiltrate the U.S. at the Southwest border.

A journey begins

Boles may have had his Guatemala visitor's visa, but he would not be able to complete his trip from Moscow without a transit visa through Cuba.

This would prove to be no problem in Damascus, and he has plenty of company among Syrians, Iraqis, Jordanians, Lebanese and others passing through.

Carrying his Iraqi passport, Boles took a 15-minute cab ride to the three-story whitewashed Cuban Embassy just three blocks from the American Embassy.

Inside, friendly clerical workers handed him an application. He filled it out and handed over $70 cash with his passport and some passport-sized pictures. About a half-hour later, his passport was returned stamped, no questions asked.

Cuba's consul in Damascus said in an interview that his country happily grants visas to any Middle Easterner who asks "because America doesn't give anyone the opportunity to take refuge, especially after 9-11."

"But we work another way," said Armando Perez Suarez. "We put conditions on American people who are making war with everyone. The Arab people are the peaceful ones. We give visas to anybody who wants to visit our country."

Suarez said he is well aware that Cuba, with its economic problems and poverty, is not anyone's idea of a final destination.

"After that, if he wants to travel to any other country, the U.S., or Central America, this is not our problem," Suarez said. "It's not our burden."

He scoffed at American concerns about terrorist infiltration.

"I'm sorry your president is from Texas," he said. "Now you're receiving your own medicine. The problem started in Texas and it's finishing in Texas."

Boles, his Cuba transit visa in hand, was almost ready to go.

Digging once more into his dwindling bundle of cash, he bought tickets from Damascus to Moscow, from Moscow to Cuba, and finally, from Cuba to Guatemala City. Total cost: $2,100. Total travel time: about two days.

He told no one of his plans, though he asked around about Guatemala and learned that lots of Arab merchants who speak his language and might be of help to him operate businesses in Guatemala City.

In June 2005, Boles packed a single suitcase, including toiletries, a sport coat and a couple of pairs of jeans.

He had a flight to catch.

Bound for Damascus International Airport, he hailed a taxi in Jaramana and bid it farewell.

'I've made it to America'

Web Posted: 05/24/2007 12:13 PM CDT
Todd Bensman
Last of four parts
BROWNSVILLE — The human smuggler offering to help Aamr Bahnan Boles and his two friends cross the border into America was tall, dark and pricey.

"I can get you to Texas, no problem," he told them. "For a thousand dollars each."

Boles and the others had just walked out of the detention center for immigrants in Mexico City. The guards, knowing the three were about to be freed after three months in custody, had arranged the rendezvous with a smuggler.

Boles would recall later how the smuggler — in street parlance a coyote, or someone who makes a living helping undocumented immigrants cross the border — was leaning against a tractor-trailer rig outside the jail gates.

He said his name was Antonio.

"Where are you from and where do you want to go?" the smuggler asked.

"We are Iraqis," Boles said in halting Spanish, "and we want to go to America."

Boles, a Chaldean Christian determined to escape the Iraq war, is categorized by the U.S. government as a "special-interest alien," those from 43 countries where terror groups are known to operate. As such, they can be subjected to extra screening and harsher treatment than other immigrants when caught crossing illegally.

Near the end of his journey to America — born in the shadows of a Damascus, Syria, restaurant and culminating nearly a year later with the final push into Texas — Boles ran smack into this post-9-11 security net.

But the system is fallible, and just as likely to punish the benevolent as to release the dangerous.

On the U.S. side, authorities are feeling their way sometimes blind and scared. Once over the Texas border, Boles would encounter various jail cells, a skeptical magistrate, a distrusting government lawyer and a bizarre courtroom quiz about his biblical knowledge where his very freedom hinged on the right answers.

Boles managed to cling to his last couple thousand dollars after Mexican immigration agents plucked him off a bus from Guatemala, where he had arrived eight months earlier after an air trip from Damascus to Moscow and through Cuba. His new traveling companions, Ammar Habib Zaya and Remon Manssor Piuz, also had money.

Zaya and Piuz, like Boles and many Iraqis caught traveling through Mexico, said they were members of a Christian minority who had fled their homes in Iraq after Islamic extremists began killing and kidnapping men in their community. Zaya said he had worked on an American military base in Iraq, doing laundry for the troops.

The United States was giving few visas to Iraqi refugees, so they'd struck out for America and were caught by Mexican immigration. Mexican and U.S. intelligence agents interviewed them in custody as part of a secret counterterrorism program aimed at capturing immigrants from places such as the Middle East.

While other Middle Easterners who provoke some level of suspicion get deported to their homelands, Boles and his two new friends eventually were released with papers ordering them to either leave the country or apply for Mexican residency within two weeks.

The choice was clear.

It made sense that the three young men would band together for the final leg of their journey. There was safety in numbers, but they also had much in common. They were from the same Iraqi province of Mosul and all in their early to mid-20s. All had fled the war.

In the Mexican jail, Zaya and Piuz incorrectly told Boles about a surefire way to get legal status after they crossed into America. All they'd have to do was plant their feet on U.S. soil, find a government representative and claim political asylum. The Americans would have to give them a fair hearing on claims of religious persecution in Iraq, and maybe they could get permanent residency and a path to citizenship.

Before the end of their first day of freedom in Mexico, Boles and his compatriots sat crowded together in the sleeper compartment of Antonio's tractor-trailer cab. The truck was barreling northeast from Mexico City toward the northern industrial city of Monterrey, nearly 600 miles away.

In Monterrey, the men transferred with Antonio to a different truck, this one bound for Matamoros, another 200 miles north and just across the border from Brownsville.

Nearly a full year after flying out of Damascus, Boles was almost to his goal now.

His excitement and apprehension grew.

In Matamoros, Antonio handed the travelers over to another man. They were driven by car over dirt roads that wound through farmland and came to a stop a half-mile from the Rio Grande. It still was dark. Boles and his two companions followed the coyote over dirt trails.

The smuggler told them not to talk; Border Patrol agents could be just over the other side. They stripped to their shoes, bundled their clothes and shuffled down the riverbank to the neck-deep, fast-moving green water of the Rio Grande. At 5:20 a.m. April 29, 2006, they waded across to Texas one at a time using an inner tube.

The men scrambled back into their clothes. They were about 6 miles east of the rural town of Los Indios.

"America!" Boles thought as he faced towering sugar cane fields. "I'm finally here. I've made it to America."

His joy would be short-lived.

Boles' small group triggered a motion detector while hiking up a dirt road toward U.S. 281. U.S. Border Patrol agents in three SUVs rumbled out of their hiding places to check the area.

Boles and his companions were hiding in brush when they saw the green and white vehicles coming toward them. They leapt out with hands raised and ran toward what they thought was salvation.

"Iraqi Christians! Iraqi Christians! Iraqi Christians!" they shouted over and over, jumping up and down. "Political asylum! Political asylum!"

None of them could have known they already were marked men.

A flawed system

Federal agents from Texas to California and from Maine to Washington go on red alert whenever a special-interest immigrant gets caught crossing the border — or at least they are supposed to.

The goal is to put everyone captured, regardless of nationality, into deportation proceedings or immediately send them back. The routine is to run the fingerprints and names of apprehended border crossers through interlocking government databases that look for criminal history, outstanding warrants or past immigration violations.

But apprehensions of border jumpers hailing from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia trigger under-the-radar procedures that go well beyond these first rudimentary checks.

Border Patrol agents are supposed to run these names through the agency's National Targeting Center database, which looks for any link to terrorism or flags when other agencies have an investigative interest in the name.

The next step is to notify the nearest FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, which has its own more extensive databases and access to counterterrorism and intelligence resources. The Border Patrol has logged hundreds of such referrals to the FBI each year since 9-11.

Border Patrol agents made 644 referrals in 2004, 647 in 2005 and 563 in 2006, according to agency data requested by the San Antonio Express-News. If sufficient suspicions are aroused, the FBI can place a national security "hold" on an immigrant to keep him in custody while agents investigate further.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Ralph Diaz, who oversees bureau activities in South Texas from his San Antonio headquarters, said an effort then is made to interview every special-interest immigrant in person.

"They're not all necessarily a threat," Diaz said. "But we don't have the luxury of presuming that. The flag goes up and we say, 'Let's take a look at this.'"

The workload is not insubstantial. More than 1,500 special-interest immigrants have been captured in Texas since 9-11, including nearly 300 between March 2006 and April, among them Boles and his two companions, along with Iranians, Yemenis and Afghans. Diaz and other FBI officials familiar with special-interest immigrant assessments said the vast majority are determined to be economic refugees or people fleeing wars and political persecution.

"It's not reached a level where we've had a threat to national security in the San Antonio district," said Diaz, who has been on the job about a year.

Other federal counterterrorism authorities, however, say they have connected some border jumpers to terrorism. Among them was a South African woman of Middle Eastern descent whose July 2004 arrest at the McAllen airport with wet clothes, thousands in cash and a mutilated passport made international headlines.

Farida Goolam Ahmed eventually was charged with a simple illegal entry offense and quietly deported, but key documents remain sealed. A Dec. 9, 2004, U.S. Border and Transportation Security intelligence summary, accidentally released on the Internet, states that Ahmed was "linked to specific terrorist activities."

Government officials familiar with the case now confirm Ahmed was a smuggler based in Johannesburg, South Africa, who specialized in moving special-interest immigrants into the United States along a United Arab Emirates-London-Mexico City-McAllen pipeline.

Houston-based federal prosecutor Abe Martinez, chief of the Southern District of Texas national security section in the U.S. attorney's office, was asked if Ahmed or anyone she smuggled might have been involved in terrorism.

"Were they linked to any terrorism organizations?" Martinez said. "I would have to say yes."

Martinez and a number of Texas-based FBI officials declined to elaborate. But an August 2004 report that appeared in the Washington-based Homeland Security Today quoted several unnamed government counterterrorism officials as saying Ahmed also was found to be ferrying "instructions" from a Mexico al-Qaida cell to another cell in New York.

The article reported Ahmed's arrest led the CIA to capture two al-Qaida members in Mexico and several Pakistani al-Qaida members in Pakistan and in Britain who all were part of the plot to attack targets in New York.

The Express-News couldn't independently corroborate the Homeland Security Today report.

Other immigrants who have prompted some level of uncertainty or suspicion end up deported to their home countries.

Kyle Brown, an immigration attorney in McAllen, said two Afghans he represented had their asylum applications denied and were deported after the FBI discovered "a series of telephone numbers" in their possession.

"One of them (telephone numbers) led back to a link to terrorism," Brown said.

But FBI officials, including San Antonio's Diaz, acknowledge the bureau's current system of assessing whether someone is a terrorist is far from error-free.

Often, immigrants show up with no documents or with fakes. FBI agents could have little to run through terror watch list databases, or, when a name is real, it might not be entered.

"You interview them, run every database possible, fingerprints, watch lists, check their stories. You get some sort of a feel of their sophistication," said an FBI official who works along the Southwest border. "Could we be fooled? Of course."

Last year, a Homeland Security Department audit cited weaknesses in the government's ability to differentiate between persecuted political asylum seekers and terrorists.

"The effectiveness of these background checks is uncertain due to the difficulty verifying the identity, country of origin, terrorist or criminal affiliation of aliens in general," the audit report stated. "Therefore, the release of these (migrants) poses particular risks."

FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents concede they can't get around to interviewing every captured special-interest immigrant. Until thousands of new detention beds were ready last year, Border Patrol and ICE routinely released special-interest immigrants on their own recognizance, usually never to reappear, simply because there was nowhere to keep them.

New detention space lets the government hold more undocumented immigrants for deportation proceedings. But even then, some are let go and not fully investigated, according to a review of hundreds of intelligence summary reports showing law enforcement activity along the Texas-Mexico border.

The reports suggest the FBI is not always getting referrals, and full investigations aren't being conducted.

One of many such examples occurred Dec. 1, according to an intelligence summary report from that day. "Sudanese detained at Carrizo Springs station. Released." The State Department lists Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Three days later, agents picked up a Pakistani at a checkpoint in Val Verde. "No derogatory," the report stated, referring to a watch-list check. "Released." Two days after that, Border Patrol agents picked up an Iraqi and had a watch-list check run on his name, too. "No derogatory info. Released."

Sometimes Border Patrol agents exercise a new authority provided by Congress to simply expel undocumented immigrants back to Mexico without court oversight, a process known as "expedited removal."

While helping to reduce congestion in detention centers and courtrooms, expedited removal also loses opportunities to investigate the immigrants and their smugglers.

In a typical such instance, on June 20, Border Patrol agents arrested an Eritrean national in McAllen.

"Subject stated that he flew from Sudan to Mexico City using a photo-substituted French passport," the report stated. "He was processed for expedited removal."

The Lord's Prayer

To American agents, Boles and his two fellow Iraqi travelers were big question marks. Like many special-interest immigrants, they were captured with no identification or documents, just a story about being persecuted Christians in need of safe harbor. Their inability to back their story with evidence — even to prove the validity of their given names — would bode ill.

Border Patrol officers who caught Boles transported him to one of their facilities in Brownsville, where his name once again was run through the databases. Those checks came out clean. The FBI was notified that Iraqis had been caught at the river. But still no one could say for sure who they were.

Before Boles' first day in American custody was over, immigration authorities in Brownsville charged him and his two compatriots with the federal misdemeanor of illegal entry, which carries a maximum punishment of six months in prison.

Boles' appointed attorney, Humberto Yzaguirre Jr., recalls assuring his three clients that the charge was routine and they would serve no time. They would plead guilty, be given time served and then get out on bond to pursue political asylum claims — assuming the FBI quickly cleared them.

Yzaguirre had seen it happen this way a thousand times, he told them.

But it wasn't to be.

No one in the Brownsville federal court system was ready to believe that Boles, Zaya and Piuz were Christians.

All three Iraqis had pleaded guilty and were awaiting their sentencing before U.S. Magistrate Court Judge Felix Recio, scheduled for May 5, 2006.

In the meantime, the court had ordered probation officers to interview the three Iraqis to collect their stories and make recommendations to the judge.

Attorney Paul Hajjar, a Lebanese American hired as a defense interpreter for the proceedings, recalled overhearing the Iraqis talking among themselves in a dialect that was not Arabic. He recognized it as a contemporary derivative of the ancient Aramaic language dating to the days of Jesus Christ. It is spoken only by Middle East Christians.

Hajjar asked Piuz about the language. Just then, the Iraqi broke out with a heartfelt rendition of the Lord's Prayer in Aramaic, loudly enough for all to hear.

Piuz closed his eyes as he continued slowly, bowed his head and spoke the words of the prayer with what appeared to be deeply felt angst, Yzaguirre recalled, as though he hoped God could help him out of the situation. When he finished, Hajjar turned to the probation officers. These men, he said, could not be Muslims.

"See? They are exactly who they say they are," he said. "I don't see Muslims saying the Lord's Prayer in Aramaic. A Muslim wouldn't speak Aramaic to begin with, and they certainly wouldn't know the Lord's Prayer."

The display wouldn't help the group. It wasn't included in the report that would go to the judge. And the FBI still hadn't shown up.

Taking no chances

Magistrate Judge Recio already had decided he wasn't taking any chances with Iraqis.

"Mr. Boles," the judge said at their sentencing hearing, "good morning. Do you have anything you wish to say to the court?"

"No," Boles replied in Arabic, then added, "If you could just give us some consideration."

"Mr. Piuz, do you have anything you want to say to the court?"

Meekly, Piuz replied, "Just, if you could take care of us."

Next, Recio asked Yzaguirre the same thing. Yzaguirre assured the judge that no evidence had surfaced indicating that his clients were Muslims instead of Christians.

The judge then turned to the government's prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Marposon, for his opinion.

Marposon, who has declined several interview requests, said he concurred with the pre-sentence report's recommendation of minimal punishment, the usual time served.

But Recio, who didn't respond to three interview requests for this report, was about to surprise the government's prosecutor and everyone else in his courtroom.

"We know that this country is in war in Iraq," he said. "We know the problems associated with all of that, and it gives reason for this court to be cautious and to take things into consideration carefully and to apply the law to them as carefully as possible."

Recio went on to express skepticism about the Iraqis' stated motives for coming to the United States when they could have stayed in Europe or gone elsewhere much more easily. He said he doubted their story that they'd all met for the first time in Mexico when the three men came from the same province.

"It would be highly unlikely that if you're released from any Mexican prison that you would be released with any money whatsoever," the judge said. "So someone is financing you, or you're receiving funds from someplace. We have no idea where those funds are coming from."

The judge reserved special ire for the government.

"I might add the government has been very lax in coming forth with any evidence to either support or go against the claims of these individuals," he said. "Who did they check? What did they check? What did they verify? Who did they talk to? I don't know."

Recio sentenced them to six months in prison.

"We want to promote respect for the law. We want to protect the public from further crimes, and we want to provide a deterrence for other criminal conduct," he said.

The gavel came down with a crack.

The hearing had lasted 15 minutes.

Boles, Piuz and Zaya were devastated. The U.S. marshals handcuffed them and led them away to prison.

Tougher grilling

About a week later, the FBI showed up. The experience would not be pleasant.

Two men from the bureau, an ICE agent and a Lebanese interpreter arrived at the jail where the prisoners were being held.

Boles found their questions insulting and their manner brusque and intimidating, unlike his experience with the Americans who had questioned him in Mexico.

The agents, he later recounted, demanded to know why he had come to America, and the names of the smugglers who brought him.

They began asking personal questions, like if he had sampled tequila while in Mexico and what it had felt like, knowing that practicing Muslims who don't drink alcohol wouldn't have an answer.

Agents demanded to know about his military experience. Boles believed his three-month incarceration in Mexico was the result of admitting he'd been a conscript in Saddam Hussein's army. So he lied this time.

"No, I never served in the military," Boles told the agents.

But the agents had his statements from Mexico. They pounced, hoping to break down a possible cover story.

"Don't you think we know what you said in Mexico? You're a liar!"

For the next five hours, they grilled Boles.

They threatened to charge him with lying to federal law enforcement officers, a felony that could bring a five-year sentence, unless he told them who he really was and what he was doing sneaking into America.

They threatened to send him back and force him to join the new Iraqi army, where he would probably suffer a violent death.

At last, the agents left Boles, exhausted and feeling hostile toward the country he hoped would adopt him.

New agents would return three weeks later and interview him again about the details of his life and travels, most likely looking for inconsistencies.

That was the last he heard from the FBI and ICE.

Mixed-up feelings

Boles spent his 26th birthday behind bars.

After he completed his sentence in November 2006, he was remanded to the custody of immigration authorities and transferred to a federal detention facility near Port Isabel. Once again, Pakistanis, Jordanians and Yemenis were among his cellmates.

Most immigrants in similar situations probably would be deported at this point or be eligible to pay a bond and be freed while pursuing a political asylum claim. But the FBI still had not cleared Boles, and until it did he would remain in limbo.

Relatives in Detroit hired Harlingen immigration lawyer Thelma Garcia, and she began pushing government lawyers to secure a ruling from the FBI. Finally, toward the end of the year, the FBI notified the court that it had cleared Boles. He was not a national security risk.

But suspicion can be hard to overcome in Texas, at least when it comes to Iraqis during a war. There was still no proof of his Christian identity and his story of persecution at the hands of Muslims.

Boles would be asked one last time to prove his credibility with a test of his religious faith.

Garcia quickly moved to get a hearing date that would allow Boles to bond out and go to Detroit.

U.S. Immigration Judge William C. Peterson presided over the hearing Jan. 3. The government's lawyer was Assistant Chief Counsel Sean Clancy.

Clancy, who some people think resembles actor Randy Quaid, is a classic Irishman. He has fair features and reddish hair. He wore a crisp suit.

Clancy put Boles through his final test, opening with a battery of questions designed to ascertain, finally, whether he was who he said he was. Garcia's notes from the proceeding chronicle this unusual courtroom exchange:

"What's a Christian?" the prosecutor asked.

Clancy was assertive without being confrontational.

"We believe in Jesus as our savior and we believe in God," Boles replied.

Clancy seemed to accept the answer, Garcia thought.

"Who is Jesus and where did he come from?" Clancy asked Boles.

"He is the son of God, son of Joseph and the son of David."

"Was he just another man?"

"No, he was the son of God."

"How often do you pray?"

"I pray every Sunday, three times a day."

"What do you do on Sunday?

"I go to morning Mass."

"What's Mass?"

"We pray with a Bible."

"What's Communion?"

"We take the body of Jesus Christ."

"In what form do you take Communion?"

"Bread. Wafers. The priest prays over it and then we eat it."

Clancy turned to the judge.

"That's all I have," he said. "It's up to the court, your honor."

Peterson set Boles' bond at $1,500. Relatives paid it a couple days later and then wired money for bus fare to his lawyer in Harlingen. It was enough for a one-way trip to Detroit aboard a Greyhound.

The next night, on Jan. 6, a Border Patrol agent drove Boles to a bus station in Brownsville and let him off at 11 p.m. with all of his worldly possessions: a bag filled with a few basic toiletries, extra socks and underwear and some documents. He wore a red Nike baseball cap, a brown corduroy sport coat and a grim expression.

Boles felt bitter. He did not think the FBI and the U.S. judicial system had treated him well.

But he was ready to get on with his new life.

"My feelings about America are all mixed up," he said as he ate his first American meal as a free man, a cheeseburger and fries at the Brownsville Cafe. "We knew they'd do an investigation of us, but why did it have to be a criminal investigation? I believe it was an unfair sentence for him to send us to jail."

But Boles, who had not had much to laugh about in a long time, couldn't contain his dry sense of humor.

Casting a sideways glance, he said with the measured delivery of a standup comic:

"I know they have to protect your country.

"But why take so long to do it?"

The long journey of Aamr Bahnan Boles from Iraq had consumed almost three years of his life. Along the way, some of his enthusiasm had been lost, the joy of second chances tempered, the burden of freedom, loneliness of secrecy and imperfections of America all driven home.

"I feel lost," he said. "It's the first time I've been free."

Boles probably will remain free, though his claim for political asylum continues wending its way through the system. Returning to a Texas courtroom, which Boles must do in August, needn't worry him, said Martinez, the prosecutor who oversaw the FBI's handling of Boles.

"His story," Martinez said, "is true."

On a Saturday morning in January, that story, a refugee's story, entered its final chapter as Boles stepped onto a Greyhound bus in Brownsville. It took him north through Harlingen into the vast expanse of Texas and then into America's heartland.

Forty-four hours and many stops later, the odyssey from Damascus to Detroit ended at another Greyhound depot, and Boles began a new life.

News Researcher Julie Domel contributed to this report.

How this series was reported

To document the hidden world of special-interest aliens, San Antonio Express-News reporter Todd Bensman and photographer Jerry Lara traveled to Damascus, Syria; Amman, Jordan; throughout Guatemala; the southern border state of Chiapas, Mexico; Brownsville and elsewhere along the Texas border; and Michigan. Bensman documented routes used by smugglers to move immigrants from Islamic countries, including a popular one from Syria to Texas traveled by Iraqi refugee Aamr Bahnan Boles.

The Express-News hired Arabic language interpreters in Syria, Jordan and Texas, where Boles was first interviewed extensively. Bensman obtained materials from overseas smuggling investigations and hundreds of daily intelligence summaries reflecting Texas border crossings. He interviewed U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials in both countries, and examined U.S. court records from a dozen federal smuggling prosecutions. Some dialogue and scenes described in this series were reconstructed based on interviews with Boles and, when possible, others who were present.


A Little Levity:

Are you a Democrat, Republican or a Redneck?
Here is a little test that will help you decide. The answer can be found by posing the following situation and question:
You're walking down a deserted street with your wife and two small children. Suddenly, an Islamic Terrorist with a huge knife comes around the corner, locks eyes with you, screams obscenities, praises Allah, raises the knife, and charges at you.
You are carrying a Glock 40 cal, and you are an expert shot. You have mere seconds before he reaches you and your family.
What do you do?

Democrat's Answer:
Well, that's not enough information to answer the question!
Does the man look poor or oppressed?
Have I ever done anything to him that would inspire him to attack?
Could we run away?
What does my wife think?
What about the kids?
Could I possibly swing the gun like a club and knock the knife out of his hand?
What does the law say about this situation?
Does the Glock have appropriate safety built into it?
Why am I carrying a loaded gun anyway, and what kind of message does this send to society and to my children?
Is it possible he'd be happy with just killing me?
Does he definitely want to kill me, or would he be content just to wound me?
If I were to grab his knees and hold on, could my family get away while he was stabbing me?
Should I call 9-1-1?
Why is this street so deserted?
We need to raise taxes, have a paint and weed day and make this a happier,
healthier street that would discourage such behavior.
This is all so confusing!
I need to discuss with some friends over a latte and try to come to a consensus.

Republican's Answer:

Redneck's Answer:
(sounds of reloading).
Daughter: "Nice grouping, Daddy! Were those the Winchester Silver Tips or Hollow Points?"
Son: "You got him Pop! Can I shoot the next one?"
Wife: "You are not taking that to the Taxidermist!"


I'll take a few Rednecks, thanks.