Refugee Vetting for Ohio State Attacker Missed Signs of Possible Link to Terrorism
WASHINGTON – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley is raising new questions about the Obama administration’s prior vetting of the man who launched an attack on the Ohio State University campus in November following tips that the refugee background checks for him and his family may have been incomplete.
Abdul Razak Ali Artan, the man behind the November attack, arrived in the United States with his mother and six siblings as refugees originally from Somalia in 2013, according to documents obtained by the committee. During the refugee vetting process, Artan’s mother indicated that she was seeking refugee status, in part, because she feared the terrorist group “Al-Shabbah” would kidnap and recruit her children. This claim should have triggered additional vetting for the older children, including Artan, to determine what, if any, interactions they may have had with the terrorist organization. However, this additional vetting apparently didn’t happen.
Additionally, government forms used in the 2013 vetting interview appear to be from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which was replaced by the Department of Homeland Security in 2002. It’s unclear whether the forms used in the interview excluded certain fields that may have been required in the 2013 version of the forms, leading to an incomplete review.
Artan was killed by law enforcement after he drove his vehicle into a crowd and then began slashing people with a knife. Federal investigators reportedly believe Artan was inspired by ISIS and the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Grassley is seeking the immigration and criminal histories of Artan’s mother and siblings, as well as records related to the interview conducted with Artan’s mother to evaluate her request for refugee status. Grassley also implored the department to use up-to-date forms to ensure that the proper information is documented. Grassley previously requested Artan’s immigration and criminal history in November.
Full text of Grassley’s recent letter follows.
December 14, 2016
VIA ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION
The Honorable Jeh Johnson
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528
Dear Secretary Johnson:
On December 3, 2016, I wrote to you requesting information on Abdul Razak Ali Artan, the Ohio State University student who attacked pedestrians on campus with his car and a butcher’s knife leaving 11 injured. Today, I seek additional information from your Department based on new details provided to the Committee.
According to sources, Abdul Razak Ali Artan was a lawful permanent resident who originally came to the United States from Mogadishu, Somalia after spending time in a Pakastani refugee camp with his mother, Fatima Abdullahi, and six siblings. According to records obtained by the Committee, the mother sought asylum in 2013 for herself and seven of her eight children because she feared persecution from “Militia and Al-Shabbah.” She also indicated that her husband was kidnapped, and that her children would be kidnapped and recruited by Al-Shabbah if they remained in Somalia.
This information should have caused the asylum officer to conduct additional questioning of the older children to better understand ties to a group that the United States designated as a foreign terrorist organization in 2008. Further questioning could have eliminated the possibility that the asylees had dubious ties to the terrorist group and could have allowed for more robust vetting and data collection. However, although common practice in these cases, no additional questioning was conducted.
Moreover, it appears several of the forms obtained by my office still bear the Department’s previous name, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which was replaced in 2002 by the Homeland Security Act. I am interested in understanding whether the substance of the form completed in 2013 is outdated, or if the form simply bears the incorrect name. It is imperative that these important forms are up to date to ensure proper records are obtained, and information documented.
To better understand the situation, please provide a description of the mother’s and siblings’ immigration history and copies of their alien files, including any temporary files, working files, and all documents and items contained in them that were generated by DHS or in its possession about them, whether currently in written or electronic form, including, but not limited to, the Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) Executive Summary, criminal history and immigration summaries, detainers or requests for notification, I-213(s), and Notice(s) to Appear or other charging documents created to seek their removal from the United States. Please also provide documentation of the credible fear interview with the mother and her children as well as any other corroborating documentation that was used in reaching the decision to grant refugee status. If the credible fear interview was not conducted, please explain what other mechanisms were used to verify and vet the applicants.
I anticipate that your written reply and any responsive documents will be unclassified. Please send all unclassified material directly to the Committee. In keeping with the requirements of Executive Order 13526, if any of the responsive documents do contain classified information, please segregate all unclassified material within the classified documents, provide all unclassified information directly to the Committee, and provide a classified addendum to the Office of Senate Security. Although the Committee complies with all laws and regulations governing the handling of classified information, it is not bound, absent its prior agreement, by any handling restrictions or instructions on unclassified information unilaterally asserted by the Executive Branch.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. Please respond by December 21, 2016. If you have any questions, please contact Katherine Nikas of my Committee staff at (202) 224-5225.
Charles E. Grassley
Senate Judiciary Committee
The Honorable Patrick Leahy
Senate Committee on the Judiciary