ISIS intended to exploit the vulnerabilities of the U.S. border with Mexico, using English speakers and westerners to take advantage of smuggling routes and target financial institutions.
Captured ISIS fighter Abu Henricki, a Canadian citizen with dual citizenship with Trinidad, last month said that he was sought out by ISIS’ leadership to attack the U.S. from a route starting in Central America, according to a study by the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and published in Homeland Security Today.
“ISIS has organized plots in Europe with returnees so it seems entirely plausible that they wanted to send guys out to attack. The issue that makes a North American attack harder is the travel is more difficult from Syria,” Anne Speckhard, who co-conducted the study as the director of ICSVE and Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University, told Fox News. “So the idea that they would instead use people who were not known to their own governments as having joined ISIS might make it possible for them to board airplanes.”
Henricki said he traveled to Syria with the intention of serving as an ISIS fighter, but was told he could not take on soldier duties due to a chronic illness. he said in 2016 he was “invited” by the ISIS intelligence wing – known as the emni – to join other Trinidadians and launch financial attacks on the U.S.
The attacks were described to Henricki as designed to “cripple the U.S. economy,” and he was said to have been informed that he would be issued false identification and passports and would be maneuvered from Puerto Rico to Mexico and then to the United States.
“The plan came from someone from the New Jersey state of America. I was going to take the boat from Puerto Rico into Mexico. He was going to smuggle me in,” Henricki continued.
He further elaborated that he believed the scheme was aimed at New York financial targets.
“They wanted to use these people (to attack inside the U.S.) because they were from these areas,” Henricki told the scholars, indicating that they were either from North America or were English speakers.
Henricki says he refused the mission and was subsequently thrown into an ISIS prison in Manbij and brutally tortured. His wife, also a Canadian, was also imprisoned in a women’s department and endured psychological torture.
Henricki surrendered to the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the final assault to take back Baghouz earlier this year. He remains behind bars in the SDF-controlled region of Syria, with their futures in legal limbo as many foreign governments are not willing to take back accused ISIS operatives.
Alex Hamerstone, the governance, risk, and practice lead at global security firm TrustedSec, told Fox News that it is not uncommon at all for criminal groups to use Americans to help facilitate their crimes and that it is far easier to do once inside the country of target.
“Even better, however, is to get someone inside the actual company to attack its network from behind the firewall. That is much easier to carry out than a cyber attack from outside of the network, and this type of ‘insider threat’ is a major problem already for US companies,” he explained. “An employee knows everything about his or her company, and what its strengths and weaknesses are. This type of person would be very effective at exploiting a corporate network and causing massive amounts of damage. What is really surprising is that terrorist groups have not already used US employees to attack their own companies.”
Hamerstone pointed out that terrorist groups like ISIS have been successful in recruiting Americans and people in the U.K. to go to their training camps, “so it wouldn’t be a huge stretch for them to get an American to get a job at a bank and then sabotage it.”
ISIS has discussed and operationalized ways in which their operatives could infiltrate U.S. borders and cause harm to U.S. citizens. To downplay the potential terrorist threats from the border areas is just harmful to the safety of Americans.
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