US Sen. Ted Budd, R-NC, is among a group of 21 senators demanding answers from Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas after eight suspected terrorists from Tajikistan with ties to ISIS were arrested last week in a sting operation in Los Angeles, New York, and Philadelphia.

Budd led the group, including fellow Republican North Carolina US Sen. Thom Tillis, in a letter to Mayorkas, stating that the Russian nationals were apprehended at the southern border, underwent vetting, and were then released into the United States. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested them after one was reportedly caught on a wiretap talking about bombs.

The letter said two of the individuals crossed the border in spring 2023, and one of them used the Customs and Border Protection CBP One app to enter the US. 

“We are further concerned by reports that federal authorities vetting these individuals upon entry into the US did not detect any ties to ISIS at the time and only discovered these ties “[l]ater and in recent weeks,” the letter stated.

The senators said that FBI Director Christopher Wray recently testified to Congress about the potential for a coordinated attack in the US, similar to the ISIS- Khorasan (ISIS’s Afghan affiliate) attack at a Russian concert hall a few weeks ago.

“Director Wray also testified in March that the FBI is “very concerned” about a “smuggling network” with “overseas facilitators” that “have ISIS ties,” they said. “Additionally, it was reported last August that the FBI was investigating, as possible criminal threats, more than a dozen illegal aliens from Uzbekistan and other countries who traveled to the US with the help of a smuggler with ties to ISIS.” 

There have been multiple recent releases of aliens on the terrorist watchlist into the United States.

Most recently, on May 3, two Jordanian nationals posing as Amazon subcontractors attempted to breach Marine Corps Base Quantico. One of these individuals had been admitted into the US on a student visa on Sept. 11, 2022, which expired on Jan. 14, 2023.   The other was arrested on April 8, in California after entering the US illegally, ordered to appear before an immigration judge on April 9, and released on his own recognizance.   According to multiple sources, one of these two Jordanians is on the US terrorist watch list.

In March, an armed known terror watchlist suspect from Yemen was arrested after a four-hour-long standoff in Eure, Gates County

Lt. Gov. and Republican candidate for governor Mark Robinson said during a press conference that he called on President Biden to give immediate answers.

“How did Hagos enter the United States?” Robinson asked. “How did Hagos get to North Carolina? Did he travel by air, interstate, or rail? Are there other places that he’s been in our state that he’s traveled to or through, and should those areas be on alert?”

Also concerning, according to Robinson, is that Hagos was living just an hour from multiple military installations in both North Carolina and Virginia. He said it was imperative to know immediately if Hagos has known terrorist ties, whether he’s been in contact with any associates, and if there is any imminent danger to the citizens of North Carolina.

The senators’ letter said there are skyrocketing US Border Patrol encounters of aliens on the terrorist watchlist as well as a record number of Chinese national encounters at the southern border during the Biden administration. In fiscal years 2017 to 2020 combined, 11 noncitizens on the terrorist watchlist were caught attempting to enter via the Southern border between ports of entry. That number increased to 15 in FY 2021, 98 in FY 2022, 169 in FY 2023, and 80 in FY 2024 as of May 15. 

They accused Mayorkas of refusing to directly answer whether individuals on the terror watchlist were “at large” or were apprehended at an April hearing, saying only that they were a “priority for detention.” But, in a November 2023 hearing, Wray admitted in a hearing that there were individuals who were the subject of terrorism investigations that they were searching for.

The senators said that due to the grave nature of these threats to the American public, they requested that Mayorkas’ office brief the senators or their staff and respond to the following questions by June 25.

  1. What are the names and identities of the arrested individuals?    
  2. When and where did they enter the US, and for what purpose?  Did they present themselves at a port of entry or enter between the ports of entry?  
  3. Did these arrested individuals claim asylum when they entered the US?  If so, how was their asylum claim resolved?  
  4. What was the vetting process for these arrested individuals when they entered the US?  Did the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have information indicating that these arrested individuals posed a criminal or national security threat when they entered the US?  Did DHS accidentally release them into the US?
  5. Are these arrested individuals members of ISIS or another terrorist organization?    
  6. Are these arrested individuals part of a broader network inside the US?
  7. Were these arrested individuals planning a terrorist attack or taking actions in preparation for a terrorist attack?
  8. Do these arrested individuals possess weapons, explosives, or other dangerous items, or other items that could be used to plan or conduct a terrorist attack?