This story looks almost too juicy to be true. And yet, Forbes reported earlier today, the FBI believes it really did break up an ISIS plot to assassinate former president George W. Bush, and it really did involve the current border crisis, at least indirectly.
A search warrant with this information somehow fell into Forbes’ hands:
An alleged ISIS-linked operative in the U.S. was plotting to kill George W. Bush, going so far as to travel to Dallas in November to take video around the former president’s home and recruiting help from a team of compatriots he hoped to smuggle into the country over the Mexican border, according to an FBI search-warrant application filed March 23 and unsealed this week in the Southern District of Ohio.
The FBI said it uncovered the scheme through the work of two confidential informants and surveillance of the alleged plotter’s account on the Meta-owned WhatsApp messaging platform. The suspect, based in Columbus, Ohio, said he wanted to assassinate Bush because he felt the former president was responsible for killing many Iraqis and breaking apart the country after the 2003 U.S. military invasion, according to the warrant. …
The alleged plot organizer had been in the U.S. since 2020 and had an asylum application pending, according to the FBI’s search-warrant application. Federal agents used two different confidential sources to investigate the plot, one who claimed to offer assistance obtaining false immigration and identification documents, the second a purported customer of the alleged people smuggler, who was willing to pay thousands of dollars to bring his family into the country.
Forbes has a screen grab (with appropriate redactions) of a small portion of the search warrant. Click over to look at the information, but in summary, the plot apparently has some connection to Qatar. The suspect planned to use one of the confidential informants to move money there to the ISIS assassins, who would then apparently sneak across the US-Mexico border to avoid detection at a regular entry point.
The connection between ISIS and the border crisis is politically explosive, of course, as it reminds us that the sieve on the Rio Grande is a national security issue. The 9/11 Commission explicitly warned Congress on that point in 2005, to little avail. However, Forbes reports further into the story, the idea was to use Mexico’s visa system to get false visitor passes rather than scoot across the river and into the desert, though. The suspect’s status as an asylum applicant raises the stakes on that point too, perhaps especially on the “catch and release” policies that allow asylum applicants to enter the US on a conditional basis rather than wait outside the borders.
In other words, this is practically designed as blog fodder for conservatives and MAGA populists. That produces the usual nagging feeling that a story too good to be true usually isn’t, or at least is rarely as juicy as it seems. To that point, Forbes also notes that the suspect hadn’t been arrested or charged as of yet … when they first reported the story. If the suspect hadn’t been arrested, how dangerous was he, really?
But wait! That has changed as well:
MORE: Shihab allegedly wanted to conduct the attack on Bush in the name of ISIS.
At all times, court documents show, Shihab was talking to a FBI confidential informant and under some form of surveillance, meaning the physical threat to Bush was low.
— Tom Winter (@Tom_Winter) May 24, 2022
Why Bush, though, and not Donald Trump, who waged war successfully against ISIS? The grudge goes back further than 2017-18, apparently. The group, while connected to ISIS (or so the suspect claimed), were also former Baath Party members and Saddam Hussein loyalists. As many as seven would take part in the plot, and at least four of them would enter into the US.
Was this just a figment of one man’s imagination, fueled and possibly entrapped by FBI “informants”? That will almost certainly be the defense’s argument. However, Forbes and other news outlets are reporting that Shihab took surveillance video of Bush’s home “near Dallas” (actually quite a way further south), as well as his foundation offices. If true, those would be explicit actions that would corroborate his intent, making an entrapment defense more difficult — not impossible, but more difficult.
Assuming that all of this really is on the level, kudos to the FBI for a job well done. Did they roll up the whole cell, though, including the erstwhile assassins? Or did the leak to Forbes interfere with that? Stay tuned.