SACRAMENTO, Calif./WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two men from the Middle East who came to the United States as refugees were arrested on federal terrorism charges in California and Texas for supporting Islamic militant groups, U.S. officials said on Thursday.
They are the latest in a series of similar cases in a U.S. campaign against extremism. Neither man was charged with plotting an attack on the United States. One man was charged with supporting the Islamic State militant group overseas and both were charged with providing false information about their ties to what were described as international terrorist groups.
There have been more than 75 publicized arrests of U.S. residents who have allegedly become radicalise by Muslim militants since 2014.
The men, arrested in Sacramento and Houston, were not involved in a single plot, but they may have been in contact with each other, a source familiar with the two cases said.
Both men are Palestinians who were born in Iraq. The man arrested in Houston, Omar Faraj Saeed Al-Hardan, entered the United States as an Iraqi refugee in November 2009, according to a court document.
In Sacramento, the U.S. Department of Justice said Aws Mohammed Younis Al-Jayab, 23, came to the United States in 2012 as a refugee from Syria.
Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, a Tea Party Republican, cited the arrest in Houston as a reason why Texas has been seeking to block the resettlement of Syrian refugees.
“This is exactly what we have repeatedly told the Obama administration could happen and why we do not want refugees coming to Texas. There are serious questions about who these people really are, as evidenced by today’s events,” Patrick said in a statement.
Republican leaders have been calling on President Barack Obama, a Democrat, to move with caution in allowing refugees from Syria to resettle in the United States.
Obama said last year that the United States would take in 10,000 Syrian refugees by Oct. 1, 2016, prompting vows of defiance from more than 30 governors who warned of risks to national security.
Most of the 75 cases for activity inspired by Islamic State involve young men allegedly seeking to support the militant group by travelling to fight with them in Syria or helping others join Islamic State abroad.
The Justice Department “will continue to hold accountable those who seek to join or aid the cause of terrorism, whether at home or abroad,” Assistant Attorney General John Carlin said in a statement.
Al-Hardan was charged with providing material support to the Islamic State militant group and for making false statements about ties to the group when seeking U.S. naturalization, according to an indictment in federal court in Houston unsealed on Thursday.
In California, Al-Jayab was arrested on Thursday on a federal charge of making a false statement involving international terrorism, the U.S. Department of Justice said.
The U.S. attorney for Sacramento, Benjamin Wagner, said in a statement there were no indications Al-Jayab had planned any attacks in the United States.
“While he represented a potential safety threat, there is no indication that he planned any acts of terrorism in this country,” Wagner said.
Wagner’s spokeswoman, Lauren Horwood, said: “There is no current threat to public safety associated with this arrest.”
In a criminal complaint, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said Al-Jayab lied about travelling back to Syria and about posting on social media his support for what the government said were terrorist groups.
“O God, grant us martyrdom for your sake while engaged in fighting and not retreating; a martyrdom that would make you satisfied with us,” the FBI said Al-Jayab wrote to someone. The court filing did not name the individual, but it indicated the person lives in Texas, where Al-Hardan was arrested.
The Justice Department said that the year after Al-Jayab came to the United States, he went overseas, and later told officials that he had gone to Turkey to visit family.
The complaint includes numerous social media postings and other communications in which Al-Jayab discussed jihad as well as using assault rifles and training with militants. He also said he was in Syria.
Al-Jayab is scheduled to appear in federal court in Sacramento on Friday, Horwood said.
Reporting by Sharon Bernstein and Julia Edwards; Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball in Washington; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Toni Reinhold, Kevin Drawbaugh and Leslie Adler