Two Yemeni men on the FBI's terror watchlist were arrested from California after illegally entering the United States from Mexico, federal authorities said Monday. The two men, one 33 and the other 26, were detained over the last three months in the Calexico area of California. The terror watchlist includes people who are "known to be or reasonably suspected of being involved in terrorist activities," according to the FBI.
The Customs and Border Protection did not release the names of the two men but said that both were on the FBI's Terrorism Watch List and on a "no-fly list," according to the agency. Officials said they also found a cellphone SIM card hidden underneath the insole of the 33-year-old.
The arrests were made by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents assigned to the El Centro Station in two different incidents on January 29 and March 30, respectively. CBP said in a statement on Monday that the two men were on a US government watchlist for terrorism suspects, and were also named on a 'no-fly' list.
"Part of the Border Patrol's mission states we will protect the country from terrorists," said Chief Patrol Agent Gregory K. Bovino.
"These apprehensions at our border illustrates the importance of our mission and how we can never stop being vigilant in our everyday mission to protect this great country," he added.
The latest announcement comes after the Border Patrol told Axios on March 16 that four men on the terrorism watchlist were detained between October 1, 2020 and March 2021. It was not immediately clear if the suspect detained on January 29 was included in the count.
The U.S. government does not release data on terrorist detentions along the border with Mexico: in 2018 the figure was given as six by Axios, and around a dozen by CNN. However, the news of the arrests of the two suspicious Yemeni men, that too who are on FBI's watchlist, is likely to be seized upon by Republicans, who are using the current surge in migrant arrivals to attack President Joe Biden, and who have always warned that terrorists could be among those entering illegally and evading detection.
A group of Republican lawmakers visiting the border in El Paso, Texas, in March said that border agents told them during the trip that some people caught crossing the border were on a U.S. terrorism watchlist. In 2019, former President Donald Trump had said during a Rose Garden speech: "We have terrorists coming through the southern border because they find that's probably the easiest place to come through. They drive right in and they make a left."
Things have changed a lot since then with immigrants increasing lately and that has once again given Republicans to slam the Biden administration.
Migrants have arrived at the US-Mexico border in higher numbers over the past few months, particularly after Biden's inauguration. In March alone 170,000 people entered the United States from Mexico, the largest single-month total in more than a decade. A large number among them are unaccompanied minors, which has forced the administration to open its 10th temporary housing facility to accommodate these young arrivals.
Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, wracked by decades of civil war, is described by the UN as suffering from the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Four million people have been forced from their homes. Perhaps this one reason they are trying to take shelter in the United States.
The border patrol say they are currently detaining around 5,000 people a day who are suspected of illegally crossing the border.