Reports that ISIS is in Mexico planning to invade the United States have been debunked, but officials say the militant group could still be planning attacks within America’s borders.
Rumors that ISIS militants were trying to invade through Mexico have been circulating for months, originating in a near-identical report from Judicial Watch. In the summer of 2014, as the group was making its blitz across Iraq and Syria, reports spread that the group wanted to infiltrate the United States and attack.
The rumors also spread through a Texas sheriff named Gary Painter, who works near El Paso. He claimed that an ISIS terrorist cell had formed in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, a region known for drug violence.
Though the reports were unsubstantiated, they were given quite a bit of credence when the undersecretary for intelligence and analysis at the Department of Homeland Security told Congress that militants were observed on social media discussing ways to infiltrate the United States.
“There have been Twitter and social-media exchanges among ISIL adherents across the globe speaking about that as a possibility,” said Francis Taylor in response to a question from Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican.
Many people rebuked the reports that ISIS was in Mexico, including Nicholas Rasmussen, deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center. Rasmussen noted that the militant group lacked the capacity to carry out such an operation.
“We do not assess right now they have the capability to mount an effective large-scale attack on the United States,” Rasmussen said.
Though the reports of ISIS in Mexico have been debunked, U.S. intelligence officials have warned of other threats to the United States. Late in 2014, the FBI announced it had uncovered plans for the terrorist attack on the Memphis & Arkansas Bridge, which connects Tennessee and Arkansas. The warning was passed on to local law enforcement authorities though specifics were not released.
While ISIS is not operating in Mexico or the United States in an organized fashion, officials have warned that small cells may be working to carry out individual attacks. The group has called on its members to attack the United States and American interests abroad, and authorities have already uncovered a handful of plots, including the arrest last year of six men in Minneapolis and San Diego who were accused of involvement in “an ISIS-inspired terror plot.”
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