Federal authorities are investigating a cohort of Uzbek nationals, who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border and claimed asylum in the United States, after new intelligence found they relied on assistance from a human trafficker linked to a “foreign terrorist organization,” Fox News confirmed Tuesday.
“Intelligence reporting alerted us to a human smuggling network working to facilitate the travel of Uzbek nationals to the United States,” White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement to Fox News. “As with all identified human smuggling networks – which seek to prey on the vulnerable and evade nations’ legal systems – the U.S. government immediately took steps to successfully disrupt it.”
“Reporting by the U.S. Intelligence Community revealed that one overseas member of the smuggling network had a connection to a foreign terrorist organization,” Watson continued, without specifying which terror organization. “However, there was no indication – and remains no indication – that any of the individuals facilitated by this network have a connection to a foreign terrorist organization or are engaged in plotting a terrorist attack in the United States.”
The U.S. government has taken steps to identify all those whose entry to the United States was facilitated by this smuggling network and “has utilized the full suite of law enforcement tools to assess such individuals to ensure that they do not pose ongoing public safety and national security concerns,” Watson said.
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A group of migrants who have crossed into the U.S. from Mexico in Eagle Pass, Texas, are led by a Border Patrol Agent on Aug. 25, 2023. (SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP via Getty Images)
Since this information became available, Watson said those encountered at the border “who fit the profile associated with individuals who were facilitated by this network are being placed into expedited removal, being thoroughly vetted against national security and public safety systems, and generally detained pending removal.”
“The U.S. government worked with a partner government overseas; that government detained key members of the network abroad, including the one linked to a foreign terrorist organization, and helped to successfully disrupt its smuggling activities,” Watson said.
“We are working closely with foreign partners to shut down the travel routes being used by individuals associated with this network. The United States continues to share appropriate information with foreign counterparts with the aim of preventing individuals associated with this network from traveling to this hemisphere in the first place.”
Watson concluded, stating the National Security Council believes “that human smuggling is a global scourge, and we are committed to staying ahead of this evolving threat.”
A migrant from Uzbekistan shows his passport while taken into custody by Border Patrol agents at the U.S.-Mexico border on Dec. 7, 2021, in Arizona. (John Moore/Getty Images)
CNN first reported that migrants from Uzbekistan crossed the U.S.-Mexico border earlier this year and were screened by the Department of Homeland Security, but nothing in the intelligence community’s databases raised red flags. CNN reported that later on, the FBI learned about a smuggling network – that included at least one person with ties to ISIS – that was helping migrants from Uzbekistan go to the U.S.
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“While the FBI has not identified a specific terrorism plot associated with foreign nationals who recently entered the United States at the southern border, we always work with our field offices across the country, as well as our domestic and international partners, to identify any potential illegal activity or terrorism threats,” an FBI spokesperson told Fox News Digital. “As always, we ask anyone with information about federal crimes or threats to public safety to report it to the FBI.”
The Ajo Border Patrol station in Ajo, Arizona, on Sunday, Aug. 13, 2023. (Rebecca Noble/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
“Whenever we have indicators that criminal actors – such as those involved in human smuggling – have connections to terrorism, we work diligently with our partners to investigate and understand how foreign terrorist organizations may attempt to exploit their capabilities so that we can best mitigate any risk to the American public,” the FBI spokesperson added.
The newfound intelligence ignited a series of urgent meetings among top national security and administration officials, and staffers on key congressional committees have been notified, sources told CNN. Sources also told CNN that the alleged human smuggler has been detained by Turkish authorities at the behest of the United States.
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Fox News Digital also reached out to the Department of Homeland Security seeking comment but did not immediately hear back.