Two Republican lawmakers told BuzzFeed News Wednesday suspected terrorists have infiltrated the U.S.–Mexico border and as many as 10 fighters have been captured, but Homeland Security officials deny any such thing has happened.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah, said four alleged terror suspects were captured on Sept. 10 in Texas. In an interview Wednesday, Chaffetz said the men flew from a Middle Eastern country to Mexico City, where they paid a smuggler to take them to and across the border. From there, the men ended up in a safe house for immigrants. They were en route to New York City, Chaffetz said, when they were captured.
Chaffetz would not reveal his source of the information, but said he confirmed it with government officials. "I had an informant tell me about it and then I questioned the Secretary of Homeland Security," he said. "I have no doubt about its authenticity."
The four alleged terror suspects had affiliations with groups other than the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Chaffetz said. He added that they were still being held in Texas as of Wednesday.
California Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Republican who represents San Diego County, made headlines Tuesday when he said to Fox News' Greta Van Susteren that he had "asked Border Patrol" about terrorists and learned that several had been captured.
Hunter claimed 10 terror suspects had been caught near the border, including four people allegedly captured in September.
"I know at least 10 ISIS fighters have been caught coming across the Mexican border in Texas," he said on the program.
Hunter's spokesman Joe Kasper told BuzzFeed News the congressman's assertion that 10 terror suspects had been captured along the border included the same four people described by Chaffetz. Kasper claimed four other suspects had been captured within the last 36 hours, and pointed to a Judicial Watch story that allegedly "confirmed" the most recent captures to back up his assertion.
Two additional suspects were picked up sometime after the first group in September, but before this week, Kasper said.
The Department of Homeland Security strongly denied Hunter's claim that terror suspects had been caught near the border.
When reached for comment, Customs and Border Protection referred BuzzFeed News to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which did not respond to emails Wednesday. However, DHS released an identical statement to both The New Republic and ABC News denying that there were terrorists coming across the border:
The suggestion that individuals who have ties to ISIL have been apprehended at the Southwest border is categorically false, and not supported by any credible intelligence or the facts on the ground. DHS continues to have no credible intelligence to suggest terrorist organizations are actively plotting to cross the southwest border.
But Hunter isn't buying that explanation. His spokesman told BuzzFeed News Wednesday that they have evidence from reliable sources about "foreign nationals" being captured along the border. Kasper said those foreign nationals may not technically be ISIS fighters, but do have suspected terror group affiliations. Kasper did not identify his sources but said that Hunter's office remains convinced that the lawmaker was correct.
The issue of terrorists coming over the U.S.–Mexico border has been a contentious and increasingly politicized one.
Among the other claims about terrorists using the border to enter the country, Rep. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, said ISIS may be teaming up with Mexican drug cartels. Audio recorded at a town hall apparently showed Cotton saying that ISIS could potentially attack people in Arkansas, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.
Cotton did not respond to BuzzFeed News' request for comment Wednesday, but when the Post asked about the statements his spokesman pointed to a series of conservative websites. And like many of the claims about the border and terrorism, the story goes back months and relies on sources who are not named — making it difficult to verify.