A Customs and Border Protection (CBP) memo is warning staff of the risk that foreign terrorist fighters engaged in the Israel-Hamas conflict could soon be attempting to enter the United States via the besieged southern border.
In a Friday memo by the agency’s San Diego Field Office’s intelligence unit, obtained by Fox News, the agency warns that individuals “inspired by, or reacting to, the current Israel-Hamas conflict may attempt travel to or from the area of hostilities in the Middle East via circuitous transit across the Southwest border.”
“Foreign fighters motivated by ideology or mercenary soldiers of fortune may attempt to obfuscate travel to or from the US to or from countries in the Middle East through Mexico.”
The memo, first reported by the Daily Caller, specifically mentions Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Hezbollah.
It warns of possible indicators, including military-age males, the possession of military gear, single travelers, an undetermined return plan and an association with the region.
The memo is the latest sign of ongoing concerns about a potential terrorist threat at the border, just as the U.S. is facing a record number of migrants from across the globe coming to its southern border and overwhelming Border Patrol agents.
Those concerns have been renewed in the wake of the attack against Israel by Hamas, sparking concerns that foreign terrorist fighters could use the border as a way to access the United States to launch attacks against the homeland.
Official numbers released Saturday show that there were a record number (169) of people encountered by Border Patrol agents at the southern border on the terror watch list in FY 23 – surpassing the numbers encountered in the last six fiscal years combined. The encounters between the ports of entry by Border Patrol are eclipsed by those who are encountered at the ports themselves. Overall, there were 564 encounters at ports of entry, just slightly higher than fiscal year 2019, when there were 538.
The watch list, now officially called the Terrorist Screening Dataset, is the U.S. database that contains information on terrorist identities and includes not only known or suspected terrorists but also affiliates of watch-listed individuals.
The Department of Homeland Security’s FY 24 threat assessment warned that agents have encountered a growing number on the watch list and warned that “terrorists and criminal actors may exploit the elevated flow and increasingly complex security environment to enter the United States.”
“Individuals with terrorism connections are interested in using established travel routes and permissive environments to facilitate access to the United States,” the assessment also said.
Fox News reported earlier this month that thousands of “special interest aliens” from numerous countries, including the Middle East, have been arrested by Border Patrol agents while attempting to cross the U.S. southern border illegally over the last two years.
“Special interest aliens” are people from countries identified by the U.S. government as having conditions that promote or protect terrorism or potentially pose some sort of national security threat to the U.S.
Since the terror attack against Israel, DHS has said the agency is “closely monitoring unfolding events and will continue to engage in information sharing with our intelligence and law enforcement partners at home and abroad.”
“This information sharing helps ensure that we are positioned to help mitigate any risks to national security or public safety,” a spokesperson said. “Our multilayered border security efforts include various screening and vetting processes that work to detect and prevent individuals who pose national security or public safety risks from entering the United States.”
However, those assurances have failed to assuage Republicans, who have repeatedly claimed that the current state of the border poses a significant national security risk to the American people.
“Our wide-open Southwest border is a major national security threat,” Republicans on the House Homeland Security Committee posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, said in response to the memo. “Individuals on the terrorist watchlist are being caught crossing the Southwest border at alarming rates – 169 in FY23. And those are just the ones we’ve caught.
“SECURE THE BORDER NOW,” they said.