Obama Administration Won’t Prosecute Saudi It Claims Threatened to ‘Blow Up White House’

March 29, 2012 - 4:43 PM
White House

White House (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - The Obama administration says it will not prosecute a Saudi Arabian national who the administration claimed in congressional testimony entered the United States on a student visa and then was arrested after threatening to blow up the White House.

On March 6, top officials from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) told the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security in both written and verbal testimony that DHS had arrested a Saudi national who was “threatening to blow up the White House and the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission to the United States.”

A U.S. anti-terrorism law--18 U.S.C. 113B--says that a “person who, without lawful authority, uses, threatens, or attempts or conspires to use, a weapon of mass destruction … (3) against any property that is owned, leased or used by the United States or by any department or agency of the United States, whether the property is within or outside of the United States; or 4) against any property within the United States that is owned, leased, or used by a foreign government, shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life, and if death results, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.”

The statute says “the term ‘weapon of mass destruction’ means … any destructive device as defined in section 921 of this title.” Section 921 says: “The term ‘destructive device’ means— (A) any explosive, incendiary, or poison gas—(i) bomb, (ii) grenade, (iii) rocket having a propellant charge of more than four ounces, (iv) missile having an explosive or incendiary charge of more than one-quarter ounce, (v) mine, or (vi) device similar to any of the devices described in the preceding clauses.”

In a written statement provided to CNSNews.com, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the DHS division responsible for enforcing the immigration law inside U.S. territory, said it has had the Saudi national in custody since Jan. 10 and that he is undergoing deportation proceedings. The statement said that “federal and local authorities declined criminal prosecution.”

The March 6 congressional hearing at which the DHS officials said this Saudi national had threatened to blow up the White House was called to examine why the U.S. government had allowed Moroccan national Amine El Khalifi to live illegally in the United States for 13 years before he was arrested while allegedly attempting to commit a suicide bombing at the U.S. Capitol. The ICE officials who testified cited the January arrest of a Saudi national who they said had threatened to blow up the White House as evidence of ICE’s effectiveness in tracking foreign nationals whose visas had expired or been revoked.

The two DHS officials who testified were John Cohen, DHS’s deputy counterterrorism coordinator, and Peter Edge, the deputy executive associate director for investigations at ICE.

“More recently in January 2012, ICE Special Agents from the Washington, D.C. office arrested a Saudi Arabian national who was admitted as an F-1 nonimmigrant student and violated the terms and conditions of his admission,” Cohen and Edge said in written testimony they jointly submitted to the committee. “The individual was referred for investigation after his status was terminated in SEVIS for failure to maintain student status, as well as for possessing several indicators of national security concerns, including threatening to blow up the White House and the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission to the United States.”

Edge told the committee about the Saudi national in his verbal testimony before the committee.

“In January 2012, for example,” Edge testified, “ICE special agents from our Washington, D.C., office arrested a Saudi Arabian national who was admitted as an F-1 nonimmigrant student and violated the term and condition of his admission."

“The individual,” Edge said, “was referred for investigation after his status was terminated in SEVIS [Student and Exchange Visitor Information System] for failure to maintain student status as well as for possessing several indicators of national security concerns, including threatening to blow up the White House and the Saudi Arabian cultural mission to the United States.”

SEVIS is an Internet-based system created by DHS to house information about people who come to the United States on student visas.

After Cohen and Edge testified in the subcommittee, CNSNews.com asked ICE a series of questions about the Saudi national the two officials said had threatened to blow up the White House: Has he, or will he, be charged with any crime? Is the individual in custody or has he been removed? Where and what was he studying? How long has he been in the United States?

ICE initially responded by directing CNSNews.com to the local police department of Fairfax County, Va., saying that it was handling the investigation.

Fairfax County Police Spokeswoman Shelley Broderick confirmed that her department carried out an investigation of the Saudi national, but said that the police department could not provide any information about him because he had never been charged by them. Broderick added that federal authorities, not local ones, would be responsible for any terrorism-related charges.

CNSNews.com then made additional inquiries with ICE and ICE Spokesman Andrew Munoz responded with a written statement.

“The subject was placed into administrative deportation proceedings after federal and local authorities declined criminal prosecution,” wrote Munoz. “Our records show that he maintained lawful status until the day before he was arrested by ICE for violating the terms of his visa. He has been in the custody of ICE since Jan. 10, 2012. Privacy restrictions prevent us from releasing any further details about this administrative immigration case.”

When asked if an individual who threatens to blow up the White House can be prosecuted by federal authorities, a Department of Justice spokesman said in an e-mail, “Whether or not such a case would or could be charged in federal [court] depends entirely on the evidence available to investigators and prosecutors, the underlying facts/circumstances of the matter, and the law.”

“That's all I have for you,” said the Justice Department spokesman.

According to the report of the 9-11 Commission, one of the Sept. 11
hijackers, Hani Hanjour, was a Saudi Arabian national who was admitted to the U.S. on a student visa.