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By Filipa Ioannou December 9, 2015

Abbott's claims on ISIS incidents in Texas leave out critical facts

After the recent terrorist attacks in France, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was among governors declaring they would not accept Syrian refugees because of a potential for terrorism.

Abbott appeared on "The Real Story," a Fox News program, on Nov.17, 2015, to explain his stance on keeping refugees out of Texas because of security concerns.

"We've had three ISIS-related incidents already and now with the possible connection of one of the Syrian refugees being involved in the terrorist attack in Paris," Abbott said, "Texas is saying 'no more.’ "

We wondered whether Texas was really the site of so many ISIS plots.

Abbott spokesman John Wittman pointed us to a letter from Abbott to Obama dated Nov. 16, 2015, which said: "The threat posed to Texas by ISIS is very real. ISIS claimed credit last May when two terrorist gunmen launched an attack in Garland, Texas. Less than two weeks later, the FBI arrested an Iraqi-born man in North Texas and charged him with lying to federal agents about traveling to Syria to fight with ISIS."

The letter went on to say that "in 2014, when I served as Texas attorney general, we participated in a Joint Terrorism Task Force that arrested two Austin residents for providing material support to terrorists -- including ISIS."

To determine if Abbott got his facts straight, we looked at each of the incidents.

An Austin-area arrest and conviction

Some of this was old ground for us. In September 2014, when Abbott was the state attorney general also running for governor, he claimed he’d been "involved in prosecuting a terrorist member of ISIS."

We found that claim False; Abbott offered no evidence to back up his declaration aside from a press release crediting a range of agencies including the attorney general as well as the Killeen Police Department and Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

Abbott’s statement also relied on a broad definition of "terrorist" and "ISIS member."

A federal complaint indicated Michael Todd Wolfe of Austin may have sought to be those things. But the complaint didn’t confirm he’d become a terrorist or ISIS member.

In the case in question, Wolfe and Rahatul Khan of Round Rock, Texas, were charged with attempting to provide material support to terrorists. Wolfe had tried to board an international flight out of George Bush Intercontinental Airport that would take him to the first stop on a planned journey to Syria.

In June 2015, Wolfe was sentenced to seven years in prison for attempting to provide material support to terrorists. According to the criminal complaint, Khan attempted to recruit an undercover FBI agent to a terrorist cell over the Internet. He was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment.

The pipeline was affiliated with al-Shabaab — the al-Qaeda-linked Somali militant group behind the mass slaying of Christian students at a Kenyan university earlier this year—not ISIS.

Abbott’s second described incident

In his 2015 letter to Obama, Abbott also referenced concerns about Bilal Abood, the "Iraqi-born man in North Texas."

Featured Fact-check

Court documents show Abood migrated to the United States in 2009, and offer the following account of his subsequent movement and activities:

On March 29, 2013, FBI agents prevented Abood from boarding a flight at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. He told them he was planning to visit family.

Interviewed a second time five days later, Abood said his intent was to join the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in the struggle against Bashar al-Assad, the president of Syria. Later in April 2013, Abood travelled to Turkey via Mexico, "on or about" April 29.

Agents again interviewed Abood upon his return to the United States on Sept. 16, 2013. He admitted he had travelled to Syria and stayed in an FSA camp, but denied financially supporting any terrorist group.

A search of Abood’s computer in July 2014 found that he had tweeted a pledge of allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, on June 19, 2014. He later denied pledging allegiance to ISIS and was arrested for making "a materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statement and representation, in a matter within the jurisdiction of the Federal Bureau of Investigation."

Abbott’s letter mischaracterizes the nature of Abood’s offense; he wrote that Abood was charged with "lying to federal agents about traveling to Syria to fight with ISIS," not lying about a tweet.

Shootings in Garland

The third incident referenced by Abbott was the Garland, Texas, shooting scheme attempted by Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi on May 5, 2015.

According to a criminal complaint the FBI later filed against a Florida man who claimed to have encouraged the attack, the two planned to shoot attendees at a contest centered around cartoons of the prophet Muhammad (drawing the prophet Muhammad is forbidden in Islam). However, they were shot and killed outside the event by police.

This incident is the only foiled attack included in a Department Homeland Security analysis of all ISIS-related arrests on United States soil from January 2014 to September 2015 (the other cases were unsuccessful and successful attempts to travel to fight with ISIS, provide material support to ISIS, and engage in early stage "aspirational" attack planning).

In the aftermath of the shooting, ISIS claimed credit. However, by the time Abbott made his claim, investigators had yet to issue any statement characterizing the Garland attack as having been ordered by members of ISIS.

Simpson was involved in terrorist causes before ISIS even split off from Al-Qaeda. He was arrested by the FBI in 2010 after discussing jihad and potential travel to Somalia with an informant the previous year.

Allison Mahan, an FBI spokeswoman in Dallas, told us via email, "The Garland attackers were ISIS-inspired and the investigation is ongoing."

ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks are much more common than attacks directly ordered by members of the group, according to an analysis published in the October 2015 issue of the Terrorism Research Initiative’s Perspectives on Terrorism. The TRI is an international consortium of scholars founded in 2007 to facilitate security studies research.

Our ruling

In his opposition to resettlement of Syrian refugees in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott said he was concerned about potential terrorism from devotees to the Islamic State. In Texas, Abbott said, "we've had three ISIS-related incidents already."

Abbott is on solid ground with one Islamic State-related incident — the Garland shooting plot. In other Texas arrests related to the group, he uses the term "incident" to cover things including lying about a tweet and trying to travel to Syria. We rate this statement Half True.

 


HALF TRUE – The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.

Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.

Our Sources

TV interview, Gov. Greg Abbott, "The Real Story," Nov. 17, 2015.

Letter to President Obama, Greg Abbott, Nov. 16, 2015.

Truth-O-Meter article, "Unsupported: Greg Abbott says he helped prosecute terrorist ISIS member," Dylan Baddour, PolitiFact Texas, Oct. 3, 2014

Document, criminal complaint for Michael Todd Wolfe, Blake Crow, FBI, Sept. 23, 2014

Press release, "Federal Grand Jury Indicts Rahatul Khan and Michael Wolfe for Allegedly Attempting to Provide Material Support to Terrorists," FBI, June 20, 2014.

Press release, "Round Rock Man Sentenced to 10 Years in Federal Prison for Attempting to Provide Material Support to Terrorists," FBI, Sep. 25, 2015.

Blog post, "CFR Backgrounders: Al-Shabab," Jonathan Masters and Mohammad Aly Sergie, Council on Foreign Relations, updated March 13, 2015.

Article, "Kenya university death toll seen rising; anger over security failures," Edith Honan, Reuters,. April 3, 2015.

Criminal complaint, USA vs Bilal Abood, US District Court, Northern District of Texas, May 13, 2015.

Report, "Analysis of ISIL-Related Arrests in the Homeland from January 2014-September 2015," Department of Homeland Security, Nov. 5 2015.

Court documents, United States v. Elton Simpson, US District Court, District of Arizona, Nov. 5, 2010.

Article, "Al-Qaeda disavows ISIS militants in Syria," BBC, February 3, 2014.

Statement, "On the Relationship of Qaidat al-Jihad and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham," Al-Qaeda General Command, al-Fajr Media, February 2, 2014.

Report, "The War between ISIS and al-Qaeda for Supremacy of the Global Jihadist Movement," Aaron Y. Zelin, Research Notes (Washington Institute for Near East Policy), June 2014.

Emails and phone interview, Allison Mahan, Public Affairs Specialist, FBI, Dec. 1, 2015.

Criminal Complaint, USA v. Asher Abid Khan, US District Court, Southern District of Texas, May 25, 2015.

Article, "Houston family saves son from joining Islamic State; now he may face prison," Adam Goldman, Dallas Morning News, Sep. 7, 2015.



 

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