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Saturday, April 17, 2021

Arrests of Iraqi refugees, one in Texas, increase pressure in Congress

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans renewed their call Friday for swift Senate action on a bill cracking down on Syrian and Iraqi refugees, following the arrests of two Iraqi-born men on terrorism-related charges.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., released a statement urging a vote on legislation that passed the House in November after the terrorist attacks in Paris. The bill would require new FBI background checks and other steps before any refugee could come to the U.S. from Iraq or Syria, where the Islamic State group has flourished.

The bill passed with bipartisan support but was strongly opposed by the White House, which pointed out that the Syrian and Iraqi refugee program is already very limited and tightly controlled.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has pledged action on the issue in the first quarter of the year. But he hasn’t specified whether he will bring up the House bill, which Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has insisted won’t pass the Senate.

McConnell has endorsed a “pause” in Syrian refugees coming to the U.S. but has moved cautiously on the issue. Despite demands from some conservatives, the Syrian refugee bill was omitted from a year-end catch-all bill in December. Instead, a more modest and broadly supported measure was included that tightened controls on the “visa waiver” program that allows visitors from 38 friendly countries to come to the U.S. without visas.

McConnell’s spokesman, Donald Stewart, said Friday that McConnell’s position hasn’t changed.

But he faces new pressures from fellow Republicans in the House as well as those running for president. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas called immediately for a retroactive review of all refugees who have come to the U.S.

Authorities alleged that one of the men arrested Thursday traveled to Syria to fight with terrorists in the civil war and the other provided support to the Islamic State group. There was no evidence either man — one from Texas and the other from California — intended or planned attacks in the United States.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of House Homeland Security Committee, held a press conference with other lawmakers to step up pressure on the Senate.

“This is an issue of safety to the American people,” McCaul said. If the latest arrests are not enough evidence as to why we need this legislation passed, “I don’t know what more is necessary,” he said.

Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Ga., said the “the vetting system needs to be improved.” The House has acted, and “now it’s time for the Senate to do their part,” Carter said.

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Associated Press writer Matthew Daly contributed to this report.

The Latest: No bail for Iraqi refugee in terror-related case

HOUSTON (AP) — The latest on two Iraqi-born men who came to the U.S. as refugees and have been arrested on terrorism-related charges by federal authorities in Texas and California: (all times local)

6 p.m.

An Iraqi refugee living in California is being held without bail to face terrorism-related charges.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Carolyn Delaney decided Friday that 23-year-old Aws Mohammed Younis Al-Jayab of Sacramento is a public danger and might flee rather than return to court Jan. 22 if he is freed.

She cites his familiarity with weapons and his statements quoted in an FBI affidavit. Court documents rely heavily on Al-Jayab’s social media communication and travel records and Internet IP addresses. Prosecutors did not provide additional information.

The FBI says Al-Jayab described fighting in Syria as a teenager. Authorities say he returned to Syria in late 2013 and lied about it when he came back to the United States.

His attorney, Ben Galloway, says prosecutors agree his client isn’t currently a threat. He criticized officials who are tying his client’s arrest to the debate over whether the U.S. is doing enough to screen refugees.

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4:40 p.m.

The brother of a Houston man accused of supporting Islamic State militants says he had never heard his sibling express support for the group.

Saeed Faraj Saeed Al Hardan of Houston says his brother, Omar Faraj Saeed Al Hardan, had been looking forward to becoming a U.S. citizen.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, the suspect’s brother said the charges against his brother came as a surprise because their family had always felt that “ISIS is no good” and “ISIS is not Muslim.”

Saeed Al Hardan says his brother told him Friday in a telephone call from the Federal Detention Center in Houston that he is innocent of the charges contained in the indictment unsealed late Thursday.

Authorities say Aws Mohammed Younis Al-Jayab, of California, fought twice in Syria and promised to train Omar Faraj Saeed Al Hardan on how to use weapons and advised him on how he would be assigned to fight once he arrived in Syria.

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3:30 p.m.

Officials say a California man is enrolled as a community college computer science major at the same time he faces terrorism-related charges.

American River College spokesman Scott Crow said Friday that 23-year-old Aws Mohammed Younis Al-Jayab of Sacramento has attended the college since last fall.

He says he cannot give other details, citing privacy laws.

Al-Jayab has his first court appearance Friday on a charge of lying to investigators about traveling to Syria to join the civil war there in late 2014 and early 2015.

If convicted he could face up to eight years in federal prison.

His defense attorney isn’t responding to request for comment.

The investigation also brought charges against suspects in Texas and Wisconsin.

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1:25 p.m.

Two men related to a suspect in a terror investigation out of California have been accused in Milwaukee of conspiring to transport stolen cellphones and computers across state lines.

Younis Mohammed Al Jayab and Ahmad Waleed Mahmood appeared in federal court Friday to hear the allegations against them in a criminal complaint.

Al Jayab and Mahmood weren’t asked to enter pleas. That could come if they’re indicted through a grand jury in the coming weeks. They were ordered released without cash bond, and the judge noted that they face charges of property crimes, not violent crimes. It wasn’t clear whether they would be freed Friday or held over the weekend.

A federal prosecutor says a third man named in the complaint, Samer Mohammed Al Jayab, was arrested California.

The men purchased 32 iPhones, a laptop and a TV that they believed to be stolen from Chicago and transported to Milwaukee, according to the criminal complaint. They intended to sell some of these items overseas.

All three men are related to Aws Mohammed Younis Al-Jayab, who has been accused of terror-related charges. Federal prosecutor Paul Kanter says the Al Jayabs are brothers and that Mahmood is their cousin.

Attempts to reach their federal defenders by phone and email weren’t immediately successful.

Kanter says there would be no comment on whether these allegations grew out of the terror investigation.

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12:20 p.m.

Federal authorities say an Iraqi refugee in California encouraged a Texas man to join the civil war against the Syrian government and promised to teach him how to fight.

Prosecutors in Sacramento said Friday that the unnamed “Individual I” in the California criminal complaint is 24-year-old Omar Faraj Saeed Al Hardan of Houston.

The California complaint says 23-year-old Aws Mohammed Younis Al-Jayab of Sacramento communicated with the Texas man in April 2013.

He promised to train Al Hardan on how to use weapons and advised him on how he would be assigned to fight once he arrived in Syria.

Authorities say Al-Jayab fought twice in Syria, including with a group later affiliated with the Islamic State organization. There is no indication that Al Hardan, also an Iraqi refugee, actually traveled to Syria.

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11 a.m.

A judge has ordered an Iraqi-born Palestinian living in Texas to be held without bond as he faces charges of trying to provide support to the Islamic State group.

Omar Faraj Saeed Al Hardan appeared Friday before a federal magistrate in Houston.

The 24-year-old Al Hardan, who speaks Arabic and used an interpreter in court, said he lives in a Houston-area apartment, is married and has a child. Al Hardan said he earns about $1,800 per month. He did not say his occupation.

Judge Mary Milloy appointed attorney David Adler to represent Al Hardan, a refugee whose arrest was announced Thursday. He was indicted Wednesday on three counts of trying to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.

Al Hardan told the judge that he understands the indictment and the charges.

Prosecutors want bond denied for Al Hardan.

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