Pfluger Opening Statement in Hearing on ISIS & al Qaeda
WASHINGTON, DC – Rep. August Pfluger (R-TX), Ranking Member of the Ranking Member of the Intelligence and Counterterrorism Subcommittee, delivered the following opening statement in a subcommittee hearing entitled, “Current Status of ISIS and al Qaeda.”
Ranking Member Pfluger’s Opening Statement (as prepared for delivery)
Thank you, Chairwoman Slotkin, for holding this important hearing today, and thank you to our witnesses for joining us.
This is a topic that both the Chairwoman and I are personally familiar with. As an F-22 pilot, I had the privilege to serve firsthand in the fight against ISIS.
Looking at where we stand today, it has been nearly a year since the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan; the Taliban was quickly able to reassert control over the country for the first time in 20 years; and our presence on the ground ended with 13 U.S. service members and at least 170 Afghans killed in an ISIS-K orchestrated terrorist attack. The bombing at Hamid Karzai International Airport is just one devastating example of how serious this threat remains. While the Taliban, ISIS-K, and others operating in Afghanistan currently receive most of the public attention, we must contend with an international ISIS and al Qaeda presence on multiple fronts – emanating from Somalia to Syria and Pakistan to Libya.
As has repeatedly been the case, we see a direct correlation between the foreign terrorist threat abroad and our security here at home. Just last month, Shihab Ahmed Shihab was charged with aiding and abetting a plot to murder former President George W. Bush. Shihab was linked to ISIS and inspired to action by their extremist propaganda. He was able to enter the United States under a visitor’s visa and subsequently claimed asylum, which raises many questions and the well-placed concern that others have and will infiltrate our country through similar means. On top of this, his assassination plot included plans to obtain Mexican visitor visas for other foreign ISIS-affiliates and, once they had arrived in Mexico, smuggle them across the U.S. border.
In another case directly affecting my home state of Texas, last December, British citizen Malik Faisal Akram was able to enter the United States using the Visa Waiver Program, despite a criminal history and having been considered a “subject of interest” by MI5 as recently as 2020. As we now know, Akram would go on to hold members of Congregation Beth Israel synagogue hostage at gunpoint for ten hours. And just a couple months ago, Isnardo Garcia-Amando, an individual present on the terrorist watchlist, was released by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) into the United States and remained free to travel the country for two weeks before apprehension. Shihab, Akram, and Garcia-Amando highlight the very real threat foreign terrorism poses to our homeland.
In addition to these recent cases, another concern I have repeatedly raised this Congress is the dramatic spike we’ve seen in watch listed individuals being encountered at the border, in particular the number which are being apprehended between ports of entry – meaning that they are not presenting themselves to be processed, but instead attempting to evade law enforcement. This is especially concerning because we know that there were almost 400,000 got aways last fiscal year. So my question is this: what don’t we know – how many watchlisted individuals got away?
The homeland implication in all of these situations is simple. It is imperative that DHS properly coordinate with Federal law enforcement and the intelligence community to track terrorist travel and prevent those who are intent on causing us harm from entering the United States.
I am looking forward to an in-depth conversation today about the current threats we face from ISIS and al Qaeda, as well as a detailed understanding of trends in terrorism movements. We must stay ahead of the curve to prevent those with hostile intent from gaining a foothold in our country, and the conversation today is an important step in the right direction to ensure our success.
Whether ISIS – which has again proven to be incredibly resistant – or al Qaeda – which has freedom of movement like they haven’t seen in decades – it is a homeland security imperative that we thwart any effort these organizations make to expand their presence overseas and launch an attack on U.S. soil. From an international perspective, it is as true today as it was in the Fall of 2001: we must deny them sanctuary; we must take the fight to them. And from a domestic perspective, we must secure the homeland on all fronts – whether it be through air, land, or sea.
I fought these terrorists my entire career. I know more than most the evil they are capable of. This is the Committee on Homeland Security. We must recognize and address these threats. Through our southern border, I’m afraid that terror groups have taken major strides in their attempt to strike in our homeland. After 9/11, when thousands of Americans lost their lives, the 9/11 Commission said that the system was “blinking red” in the months leading up to 9/11.
It’s blinking red again. We need to act.
Thank you all again for your time. Mrs. Chairwoman, I yield back.