McCaul: Iraqi Refugees’ Arrests Shows U.S. Refugee Program ‘Susceptible to Exploitation by Terrorists'’

By Penny Starr | January 8, 2016 | 2:53 PM EST

( – Two Iraqi-born refugees – one living in Texas and the other in California – were in federal court Friday facing terror-related charges, a fact the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee said is proof that the U.S. refugee program could be exploited by terrorists.

“While I commend the FBI for their hard work, these arrests heighten my concern that our refugee program is susceptible to exploitation by terrorists,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said in a statement Friday.

“The president has assured us that individuals from Iraq and Syria receive close scrutiny, but it is clearly not enough,” McCaul said. “We need to act, which is why today I call upon the Senate to take up my bill to overhaul the security vetting of Iraqi and Syrian refugees.

“We cannot delay while more potential jihadists slip through the cracks,” McCaul said.

“Terrorist groups like ISIS have vowed to use these programs to infiltrate the West, and now it is clearer than ever that we should take them at their word.”

The legislation McCaul introduced and that was passed by the House – the American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act of 2015 – would require all refugees from Iraq and Syria to be certified by the FBI and other intelligence and homeland security agencies and report that certification to Congress to ensure the individual does not pose a threat to the U.S.

Omar Faraj Saeed Al Hardan, 24, a Palestinian born in Iraq, was charged in a three-count indictment alleging that he attempted to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a designated foreign terrorist organization, according to Department of Justice (DOJ).

Al Hardan, who came to the U.S. as a refugee in 2009 and lives in Houston, was granted legal permanent residency in 2011. He was charged with one count each of attempting to provide material support to ISIL, procurement of citizenship or naturalization unlawfully and making false statements. If convicted, he could face as many as 25 years in prison if convicted.

Aws Mohammed Younis Al-Jayab, 23, is a Palestinian born in Iraq who emigrated from Syria to the United States as a refugee in October 2012. Between October 2012 and November 2013, while living in Arizona and Wisconsin, he communicated through social media with numerous other individuals about his plan to return to Syria to fight for terrorist organizations, according to DOJ.

On Nov. 9, 2013, he flew from Chicago to Turkey and then traveled to Syria.

Between November 2013 and January 2014, Al-Jayab allegedly posted on social media that he was in Syria fighting with various terrorist organizations, including Ansar al-Islam, a designated foreign terrorist organization since 2004. Al-Jayab returned to the United States on Jan. 23, 2014 and was living in Sacramento, Calif., according to DOJ.

If convicted, Al-Jayab faces a maximum statutory penalty of eight years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The DOJ said the arrests are the result of the work of federal, state and local law enforcement.