(CNSNews.com) - Illegal aliens and foreign-born U.S. citizens accused of plotting to attack a military base in New Jersey may be part of a larger network, according to a counter-terrorism expert and members of Congress, who are also pushing for an enforcement-first approach to immigration.
Although law enforcement officials have described the suspects as "homegrown terrorists" not linked to al Qaeda, Richard Miniter, an adjunct fellow with the Hudson Institute, believes this view is mistaken.
"The whole idea that these guys are part of a loose network is itself an intelligence failure," Miniter told Cybercast News Service. "When we really drill down deep enough, I will bet a million dollars you will find hard links to the al Qaeda network."
Six Muslim men were arrested this week in connection with a plot to launch a terrorist assault on Fort Dix, a U.S. Army base in New Jersey.
Five of the foreign-born suspects have been charged with plotting to kill soldiers at the base. A sixth is charged with aiding and abetting in the illegal possession of firearms. Of the five facing the more serious charges, three are brothers believed to have entered the country illegally 23 years ago.
Alluding to an apparent nexus between illegal immigration and terrorism, Miniter said that New Jersey and the greater New York area are attractive to terrorists because they contain large and diverse populations, including significant Arab-Muslim populations in places like Jersey City.
"They are looking for places where they can blend in," he said. "They want to find the biggest anthill close to population centers where they can carry out attacks."
The foiled terrorist plot in New Jersey further highlights the need for tighter border security and stricter immigration polices, in the view of Rep. Tom Tancredo.
The Colorado Republican, who is running for his party's 2008 presidential nomination, expressed support for polices that would preclude "all immigration from countries that are state sponsors of terrorism." Currently, the State Department designates Iran, Syria, Sudan, Cuba and North Korea as sponsors of terrorism.
Tancredo told Cybercast News Service that as president, he would also station "active duty troops" along the U.S. border. "We have to train people somewhere, so why not on the border?"
Tancredo said policymakers need to be more aware of Islamists' efforts to transform the U.S. into a "caliphate." He called for the arrest of Muslim clerics who advocate the overthrow of the American government. "That's sedition, and they should be arrested," Tancredo said.
Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) also raised concern about the intersection between illegal immigration and terrorism.
"Failure to enforce the law on the border creates lawlessness in the U.S. in every category," he told Cybercast News Service .
Poe also said there is a lack of "interior enforcement" directed against those who have successfully penetrated the U.S.
'Deport without appeal'
In his recommendations in the wake of the foiled terror plot, Miniter said that whenever someone is arrested for crime and is also found to be in the country illegally, "they should be deported without appeal."
Tancredo said it is possible to do this on the basis of "expedited return" polices that allow for deportation if the individual is apprehended within a specified period of time. "You can just wave goodbye and put them on a bus without involving the courts," he explained.
Another issue of concern for Miniter is student visa policies, which he said can create opportunities for terrorists.
"Colleges and universities have used their pressure groups to fight any increased federal scrutiny of who these foreign students are," he said.
"The universities just want the money. They are just as greedy as any corporation, but we should be doing background checks on students and to make student visas harder to get unless you pass through scrutiny," Miniter added.
He also recommended that military installations like Fort Dix improve screening and background examination procedures. One of the arrested suspects was a pizza delivery man who allegedly learned the base layout from his visits there.
"All army bases should look more closely at private sector civilians it allows on base and do a full background check," Miniter said. "There should be no reason why a pizza delivery guy gets an access card without a background check."
At the same time, however, bases like Fort Dix need to rethink counter-productive and potentially harmful security arrangements such as "100 percent ID checks," he argued.
"Sometimes security measures can be self-defeating," Miniter said, noting that the planned assault on Fort Dix included the use of small arms and machine guns. Such an attack would have been especially lethal if mounted against a long line of cars carrying military personnel backed up at security checkpoints.
He also urged the removal of soft facilities like daycare centers from inside bases and federal buildings. "Ending this practice would be another step toward making America safer," he said.
Miniter is the author of two best-selling books on counter-terrorism, "Losing bin Laden" and "Shadow War."
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