They could be the people on the bus seat across the aisle, or the neighbors: members of East African groups that a recently released government memorandum says are ¡§ready to die for the cause.¡¨
The FBI and Homeland Security Department don¡¦t know where they all are. And it¡¦s unclear if they know how many arrived.
But in a rare admission, a Justice Department memo and other documents obtained by the San Antonio Express-News say federal authorities know terror suspects are in this country and know who allegedly helped bring them here through Mexico and Texas: a Somali man in custody near San Antonio.
Last year, Houston-area news outlets reported that homeland security issued a vague bulletin to Texas law enforcement to be on the lookout for Mohamed Ali, a purported member of Somalia-based Al-Shabaab, which has aligned itself with al-Qaida and Osama Bin Laden.
The government in 2008 designated Al-Shabaab a terror organization. It¡¦s part of an insurgency determined to set up an Islamic theocracy in Somalia and has made statements about its intent to harm the United States.
Locally, the FBI¡¦s Joint Terrorism Task Force has been trying to retrace the steps and untangle the contacts of Ahmed Muhammed Dhakane.
He has been in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement since entering the country from Mexico through Brownsville in March 2008 and later applying for asylum.
His case resulted from an earlier, unspecified terrorism investigation, records show.
Newly released public documents label Dhakane, 24, a ¡§national security risk¡¨ and paint him as a facilitator of groups accused of funding terrorism. They also allege he smuggled potential terrorists here.
On Nov. 2, Dhakane pleaded guilty in San Antonio to two federal false statement charges: He admitted he mischaracterized how he entered the United States, and that he falsely claimed a woman was his wife so she also could enter the United States. He¡¦s to be sentenced April 28.
But though he admitted lying to get into the country, Dhakane denied the more serious charges and is fighting the government¡¦s claim that he was a former member of al-Barakat and Al-Ittihad Al-Islami, two groups listed by U.S. authorities as ¡§Specially Designated Global Terrorists,¡¨ or SDGT.
Dhakane also scoffed when federal prosecutor Mark Roomberg told a judge in November that he had smuggled through Texas, or tried to smuggle, several East Africans with similar terrorism links.
Authorities declined to comment because Dhakane has not been sentenced. But in a memorandum obtained by the Express-News, the government seeks at least 20 years in prison for Dhakane, saying FBI agents caught him on tape boasting that he made as much as $75,000 in one day by smuggling Somalis.
And the memo said the subsequent statements Dhakane made to agents and in immigration court also helped identify him as a critical component in funding radical Islamic groups in Somalia, and as an unscrupulous smuggler.
¡§He admits that he knowingly believed he was smuggling violent jihadists into the United States with the full knowledge that if the decision was made by (the SDGT groups) .|.|. these jihadists would commit violent acts in and against the United States,¡¨ the memorandum states.
Links to jihadists?
Neither Dhakane nor his federal public defender responded to interview requests.
¡§He was only convicted of the lesser offense of making false statements to federal authorities and none of the more serious acts,¡¨ noted Jeffrey Addicott, director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary¡¦s University School of Law. ¡§This fact reflects the policy of our government to essentially prosecute as early as possible regarding any hints of terror plots.¡¨