Terror-related arrests in 2 states refuel refugee debate

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – A man in California encouraged a fellow Iraqi refugee in Texas to join the civil war against the Syrian government and promised to teach him how to fight, federal authorities said Friday, a day after terrorism charges against the men were revealed.

A criminal complaint filed against 23-year-old Aws Mohammed Younis Al-Jayab of Sacramento details the social media communication he had with 24-year-old Omar Faraj Saeed Al Hardan of Houston. Al Hardan is the person identified as “Individual I” in the complaint, according to Lauren Horwood, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney in Sacramento.

“O God, grant us martyrdom for your sake while engaged in fighting and not retreating; a martyrdom that would make you satisfied with us,” Al-Jayab wrote to Al Hardan in April 2013.

The complaint says Al-Jayab, who already had fought in Syria, promised to provide weapons training to Al Hardan and advised him on how he would be assigned to the battlefield once he arrived in Syria.

Al-Jayab described how he began fighting shortly after he turned 16, and recounted “just shooting, spraying, spraying” with his assault rifle during a battle. He said he helped execute three Syrian government soldiers, according to the document.

Authorities say Al-Jayab fought twice in Syria, including with a group affiliated with Islamic State. There is no indication that Al Hardan, an Iraqi refugee, actually traveled to Syria.

Both are Iraqi-born Palestinians who came to the United States as refugees. There was no evidence either man intended or planned attacks in the United States.

The arrests, which came a little more than a month after an attack in San Bernardino, California, killed 14, brought new life to a debate over whether the United States is doing enough to screen refugees.

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas called for a retroactive review of all refugees who have come to the U.S. to examine “all of the evidence that might indicate whether these individuals have ties to radical Islamic terrorists.”

U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said the arrests “should cause President Obama to hit pause on his naïve plan to usher in thousands of refugees from Iraq and Syria over the coming year.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the screening of refugees is rigorous and thorough. He repeated the administration’s opposition to proposals that would impose a religious test or bar individuals from the U.S. based on their ethnicity.

“That doesn’t represent who we are as a country and, most importantly, it’s not going to keep us safe,” Earnest said.

Al-Jayab faces up to eight years in prison on charges of traveling to Syria to fight and lying to investigators about it. He was due to make his initial court appearance Friday afternoon.

His attorney, Ben Galloway of the federal defender’s office, did not return telephone and emailed messages Thursday or Friday.

Al Hardan made his initial appearance in Houston federal court Friday morning after he was indicted Wednesday on three charges related to accusations he tried to provide material support to Islamic State. He faces up to 25 years in prison for the most serious charge.

Al Hardan, who speaks Arabic, used an interpreter to tell U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary Milloy he understands the charges.

Al Hardan, dressed in a plaid shirt and khakis, told the judge he lives in a Houston-area apartment, is married and has a child. Al Hardan said he earns about $1,800 per month. He did not say his occupation but added his wife does not work and his in-laws live in Dallas.

Prosecutors said Al Hardan entered the U.S. as a refugee in November 2009 and was granted legal permanent residence status in August 2011.

Milloy ordered Al Hardan be held until a hearing on Wednesday to determine if he should be granted a bond. Prosecutors want Al Hardan held without bond, saying he is a flight risk and a danger to the community.

Al Hardan was appointed an attorney, David Adler, who did not immediately return a telephone call or email seeking comment.

Federal officials say arrests in Milwaukee on Thursday grew out of the Sacramento investigation but are not related to national security. Two of Al-Jayab’s brothers and a cousin are charged with conspiring to transport/receive stolen cellphones.

Younis Mohammed Al Jayab and Ahmad Waleed Mahmood appeared in federal court in Milwaukee on Friday to hear the allegations against them in a criminal complaint. They weren’t asked to enter pleas. That could come if they’re indicted through a grand jury in the coming weeks.

They were ordered released without cash bond. It wasn’t clear whether they would be freed Friday or held over the weekend.

A federal prosecutor says a third man named in the complaint, Samer Mohammed Al Jayab, was arrested in California.

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