Naif Abdulaziz M. Alfallaj, an immigrant from Saudi Arabia who has been living in Oklahoma for years, was arrested on Monday and charged Tuesday with visa fraud and making false statements to the FBI. At issue was his attendance at one of al-Qaeda’s most notorious training camps in 2000 — the same camp that trained four of the 9/11 hijackers.
The Justice Department reports that the FBI found 15 of Alfallaj’s fingerprints on an application for attendance at the al-Farooq training camp in Afghanistan. The document was seized by the U.S. military from an al-Qaeda safe house in Afghanistan in 2001.
The New York Times notes that al-Qaeda referred to such documents as “mujahideen data forms” and required applicants to have character references from sources trusted by the terrorist organization. Trainees were taught how to use weapons and explosives, then dispatched to fight for al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden himself was known to make inspection visits to the camp.
According to the Justice Department, Alfallaj entered the United States in 2011 with a nonimmigrant visa, while his wife was registered as a foreign student. He is accused of falsely answering questions on his visa application about whether he has ever supported a terrorist organization. If convicted on all counts, he faces up to 30 years in prison.
Perhaps even more disturbingly, Alfallaj used his fraudulently obtained visa to apply for flying lessons in Oklahoma in October 2016. His pilot’s license was revoked after the fingerprints he was required to provide for the license were matched to the fingerprints on al-Qaeda’s mujahideen data form. Also, the emergency contact telephone number on Alfallaj’s application to attend terrorist school in Afghanistan was traced to his father in Saudi Arabia.
Alfallaj wrote on his al-Qaeda paperwork that his hobbies included military training and he was eager to become “a mujahid or religious warrior for the sake of God.” He is 34 years old today and was a teenager at the turn of the millennium, but as the New York Times points out, he could not possibly have held any illusions about the nature of al-Qaeda even then.
Given the current emphasis on “extreme vetting” for immigrants from terrorist-plagued regions, NBC News found it odd that it took so long for the U.S. government to spot a man whose fingerprints were on an al-Qaeda enrollment form. An FBI official responded that the volume of material captured during U.S. military operations is enormous, and the technology for filing such records was not as powerful in 2000.
“The technology has evolved over the years, allowing us to better check for fingerprint matches. And part of the challenge is the sheer volume of the work,” the official said on condition of anonymity. That is not exactly an endorsement of extreme vetting procedures, especially since the data processing techniques in Afghanistan, Syria, and other hotbeds of terrorism probably haven’t made any quantum leaps since 2000.
Allfalaj has also been charged with making false statements to the FBI. According to NewsOK, these statements included denying that he was trained in the use of firearms and explosives, denying that he ever traveled to Afghanistan, and denying he ever associated with anyone from a foreign terrorist group.
The Justice Department stressed that there is no indication “the potential threat extends beyond this particular individual,” although the New York Times reports the FBI “had been watching him for several months and had been trying to determine whether Mr. Alfallaj was involved in terrorist activity in the United States.”
“I’d say there was a number of breakdowns going back to where the original intelligence was maintained and stored. He should have been on a watch list,” former FBI counterterrorism chief James W. McJunkin told the NYT.