State Department Report on Terrorism: 'The U.S. Southern Border Remains Vulnerable to Terrorist Transit'

Susan Jones | February 28, 2023 | 5:52am EST
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The aftermath of a car bomb attack near the airport of the southern Yemeni city of Aden, on October 31, 2021. At least 12 civilians, including children, were killed, security officials said. (Photo by SALEH AL-OBEIDI/AFP via Getty Images)
The aftermath of a car bomb attack near the airport of the southern Yemeni city of Aden, on October 31, 2021. At least 12 civilians, including children, were killed, security officials said. (Photo by SALEH AL-OBEIDI/AFP via Getty Images)

( - The U.S. State Department on Monday released its congressionally mandated report on worldwide terrorism in 2021, noting that 21 years after 9/11, "the terrorist threats we face are more ideologically diverse and geographically diffuse than ever before."

One of those threats is located at our own southwest border, the State Department said in its country report on Mexico:

"Counterterrorism cooperation between Mexico and the United States remained strong in 2021," the State Department said:

"There was no credible evidence indicating international terrorist groups established bases in Mexico, worked directly with Mexican drug cartels, or sent operatives via Mexico into the United States in 2021. 

"Still, the U.S. government remains vigilant against possible targeting of U.S. interests or persons in Mexico by individuals inspired by international terrorist groups.  The U.S. southern border remains vulnerable to terrorist transit, but to date there have been no confirmed cases of a successful terrorist attack on U.S. soil by a terrorist who gained entry to the United States through Mexico."

The report notes that "there were no reported terrorist incidents in Mexico in 2021," although it's clear that violence by drug cartels is a persistent problem.

But recent congressional attempts to designate Mexican drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations have not succeeded, so cartel violence is not a terror threat for purposes of the State Department's 2021 report.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, agents encountered 98 aliens on the terrorist watchlist between ports of entry at the Southwest border in Fiscal Year 2022. Another 67 were detained at Southwest border ports of entry in that year.

In Fiscal year 2023 so far, 53 non-citizens on the terrorist watchlist have been detained between ports of entry at the Southwest border, and another 32 have been detained at ports of entry.

'White Identity Terrorism'

As required by the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the State Department report now includes "all credible information about 'white-identity terrorism' (WIT)," with particular attention to whites "who perceive that their idealized ethnically white identity is under attack from or is being replaced by those who represent and support multiculturism and globalization."

The report notes that in 2021, "there were no known WIT attacks" and only one successful conviction for planned WIT violence -- the sentencing of a neo-Nazi in the United Kingdom for stockpiling bomb-making materials.

The 2021 report also includes a category called REMVE -- "racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism," which "remained a threat to the United States and our allies," the report said:

"Violent white supremacists and like-minded individuals continued to promote violent extremist narratives, recruit new adherents, raise funds, and conduct terrorist activities — both online and offline — across Australia, Brazil, Canada, Europe, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States. 

"REMVE actors also continued to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic to radicalize individuals and incite violence, particularly against health professionals, government officials, and minority populations. 

"Additionally, the December arrest of four neo-Nazi actors in Brazil for allegedly plotting an attack against Jewish and Black residents on New Year’s Eve demonstrates the growing reach and influence of REMVE adherents globally."

The 330-page report notes that despite some counter-terrorism successes, "terrorist groups remained resilient and active."

Here are a few highlights:

-- "ISIS continued to promote a large-scale terrorism campaign...Groups affiliated with ISIS ramped up activities in the Lake Chad Region of Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria.  Despite losing its territorial 'caliphate' in 2019, ISIS in Iraq and Syria maintained a significant operational structure and conducted terrorist operations in that region."

-- In 2021, Al Qaida and its affiliates constituted an "enduring threat to the United States and its allies. AQ continued to leverage its branches in the Middle East and Africa — notably AQ in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Shabaab, and Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin — that remain quite capable of inflicting damage on our allies and targeting our interests.  AQ-related threats expanded from West Africa and the Sahel into the Gulf of Guinea littoral states in 2021, with Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Togo reporting terrorist group activity and attacks in their northern border regions."

-- "In Afghanistan, ISIS, elements of AQ, and regionally focused terrorist groups maintained an active presence and conducted terrorist activities.  Despite taking significant losses from U.S. and NATO forces in recent years, ISIS-K continued to conduct terrorist attacks against civilians and the Taliban.  ISIS-K remained a resilient enemy with roughly 2,000 to 3,000 fighters in the country, although precise estimates are hard to determine..."

-- "Iran continued to be the leading state sponsor of terrorism, facilitating a wide range of terrorist and other illicit activities around the world.  Regionally, Iran supported acts of terrorism in Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen through proxies and partner groups such as Hizballah and Hamas.  Additionally, senior AQ leaders continued to reside in Iran and engaged with other AQ elements from the country..."

The 2021 report provides a detailed, country-by-country review of recent successes and the ongoing challenges posed by hundreds of designated terrorist groups, and you can read all about it right here.

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