Feds investigate terror claims after a Lebanese migrant is apprehended at US southern border

Federal law enforcement officials have launched an investigation following a US Border Patrol report of the apprehension of a man at the Texas border who said he was a member of a foreign terrorist organization and had come to the United States in order to build a bomb, CNN has learned.

In an internal US Border Patrol memo obtained by the New York Post, officials describe the apprehension of a Lebanese national named Basel Bassel Ebbadi at the El Paso Border Patrol Sector on March 9. The memo says Ebbadi was interviewed by a tactical terrorist response team after he made threats to border personnel.

“Ebbadi was checked by medical staff and was asked what he was doing here in the US,” the memo reads. “Ebbadi replied, ‘I’m going to try to make a bomb.’”

The individual is in US custody, according to US Customs and Border Protection. A source familiar with the situation told CNN a federal investigation was underway.

While the agency offered no official details, it released the following statement:

“If an individual poses a potential threat to national security or public safety, we deny admission, detain, remove, or refer them to other federal agencies for further vetting, investigation and/or prosecution as appropriate.”

CBP is part of the Department of Homeland Security, which screens and vets individuals before they enter the US and monitors intelligence and law enforcement information to monitor threats. The department also works closely with the FBI.

The number of “known or suspected terrorists” attempting to cross into the US from the southern border has increased over the last five years, FBI Director Christopher Wray said last week.

“We have seen over the last, I think, five years an increase in the number of KSTs – or known or suspected terrorists – attempting to cross the southern border,” Wray testified Tuesday in front of the House Intelligence Committee.

But that doesn’t mean they’re all terrorists.

The number of individuals encountered at the border who have records on the terror watchlist in a given year is extremely small and represents a very small percentage of the total number of known or suspected terrorists who try to enter or travel to the US through other means.

When federal authorities process migrants at the border, they take biometrics, like fingerprints and facial scans, and run individuals through certain law enforcement databases for any red flags. Some information, like where the migrants are arriving from, may trigger additional screening.

Part of the US-Mexico border is seen near Sasabe, Arizona. - Rebecca Noble/Reuters/File
Part of the US-Mexico border is seen near Sasabe, Arizona. - Rebecca Noble/Reuters/File

If there is no so-called derogatory information about a person in US databases, then the migrant is released pending an immigration court date.

The newly released Annual Threat Assessment report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence does not specifically reference the risk of known or suspected terrorists attempting to enter the US from the southern border.

Border security and the migrant crisis are among voters’ top concerns this election cycle. President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump recently visited Texas border communities on the same day. And some Texas mayors are fed up with the political bickering between their state and federal governments.

CNN’s Aileen Graef and Michael Conte contributed to this report.

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