ICE arrests Uzbek man with alleged ties to ISIS and who has been living in the U.S. since illegally crossing in 2022

BALTIMORE, MD - U.S. officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have announced the arrest of an Uzbek man with alleged ties to ISIS. The illegal migrant, 33-year-old Jovokhir Attoev, has been living inside the United States for over two years.

According to NBC News, Attoev crossed the southern border into Arizona back in February 2022. At that time, he was apprehended by Border Patrol agents, but neither Customs and Border Protection (CBP) or ICE were able to find any derogatory information on the alleged ISIS member, and he was released into the United States on bond.

A little over a year later, in March 2023, Uzbekistan put out an international notice that Attoev was wanted in his home country for his alleged affiliation with ISIS. Another year later in March, when Attoev submitted his application for asylum, is when U.S. officials discovered the notice from Uzbekistan and connected it with Attoev.

Once the connection was made, ICE arrested him on April 17th in Baltimore. As of this writing, he is in custody in Pennsylvania and awaiting trial in immigration court, which will take place in New Jersey. NBC News interviewed a handful of former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials about the case. Those individuals said that the case raises concerns about how quickly and frequently the federal government can do follow-up vetting on illegal migrants who have already crossed the border.

According to FOX 5, Michael Greenberger, Director of the Center for Homeland Security at the University of Maryland, said, "This guy was just happy to be here and didn't want to cause trouble. He wanted to stay unknown." Greenberger said that DHS has a critical need for additional resources, adding, "I suspect if intelligence agencies had the resources they need, this would not have happened."

Since there was no derogatory information on Attoev in 2022 when he illegally crossed the border, the notice from the Uzbek government in 2023 was not initially checked against the list of immigrants living in the United States and awaiting their court hearings. Elizabeth Neumann, who served as assistant secretary for counterterrorism and threat prevention at DHS from 2017 to 2020 said that Congress should pass the bipartisan border security legislations that was blocked by Republicans earlier in the year.

She said, "The concern I have is that in the last decade or so our counterterrorism budgets have drastically decreased. And that means we have [fewer] analysts doing this work. So it is harder to do things in a really timely manner when you have [fewer] resources." In February, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said at a Senate hearing that ISIS remains a "significant counterterrorism concern" for the United States.

Multiple law enforcement officials reportedly told NBC News that the United States has not definitively determined whether Attoev is part of ISI or if he ever carried out or planned to carry out an attack. Official said that DHS continues to seek information and is questioning the man further while he is in detention.

In response to this recent arrest, a DHS spokesperson said in a statement, "DHS screens and vets individuals seeking to enter the United States to identify national security or public safety threats and takes appropriate action, to include preventing an individual from entering the country.

"Screening and vetting evaluate information available to the U.S. government at that time. If individuals who have entered the country are later found to be associated with information indicating a potential national security or public safety concern, DHS and our federal partners investigate and we detain, remove, or refer them to other federal agencies for further vetting and prosecution as appropriate. In this case, the individual is in U.S. custody and there is no threat to public safety."

According to U.S. officials, Attoev was not on the terrorist watchlist at the time he illegally crossed the border in 2022 or at the time he was arrested this past April. In fiscal year 2023, which ended in late September 2023, there was a surge in border crossings. CBP reportedly had 736 encounters with illegal immigrants on the terrorist watchlist at U.S. borders, which was the most in the past six years. 
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