US says smuggler with extremist ties helped Uzbeks cross the border

The FBI is trying to locate about 15 of roughly 120 Uzbek migrants who entered the country through the network

A Texas state trooper watches as young migrants walk along along the banks of the Rio Grande as they try to enter the US from Mexico. AP
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A smuggler with ties to a foreign extremist group helped Uzbek migrants enter the US from Mexico, the White House said on Tuesday, raising questions about a potential security threat.

The smuggler was based in Turkey and had links to ISIS, according to a US official. CNN first reported the incident.

Record numbers of migrants have crossed the US-Mexico border illegally since President Joe Biden took office in 2021, including many from distant nations.

Republicans say Mr Biden encouraged crossings by reversing tougher policies of his predecessor Donald Trump.

The Biden administration argues that it has instituted more humane policies as migration has challenged countries across the Western Hemisphere.

Of the roughly two million migrants encountered at the US-Mexico border between October 2022 and July 2023, 216 were on US watch lists for potential links to terrorism, according to US government statistics.

US officials discovered a smuggling network to bring Uzbeks into the country and a smuggler with ties to a foreign terrorist organisation, White House National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said.

Washington has no indication that migrants aided by the smuggling network were tied to extremist groups or plotting terrorist attacks, she said.

Ms Watson did not confirm links to ISIS specifically or that the smuggler was based in Turkey.

Migrants who “fit the profile” of those assisted by the smugglers are placed in rapid deportation proceedings and “thoroughly vetted”, Ms Watson said.

The FBI is searching for about 15 of roughly 120 Uzbek migrants who entered the US through legal border crossings via the network, the source said.

The agency “has not identified a specific terrorism plot associated with foreign nationals who recently entered the United States at the southern border”, the agency said. It declined to comment on specifics.

US Customs and Border Protection encountered about 3,200 Uzbeks at US borders in the 2022 fiscal year, up from fewer than 700 a year earlier.

Updated: August 30, 2023, 4:01 AM