Politics & Government

Homeland Security secretary says men arrested at border claim to be Kurds

The four people who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in September and were rumored to have ties to terrorism, actually claim to be members of the Kurdish Workers Party and were not fighters for the Islamic State, said Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson on Thursday.

The four have been arrested and will be deported, Johnson said.

The Kurdish Workers Party, known by its Kurdish initials PKK, has been instrumental in battling the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS, and worked to rescue religious minority Yazidis who were trapped in the Iraq mountains in August. The Kurdish Workers Party was designated in 1997 by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist group.

Johnson spoke Thursday at an event on border security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He was there to discuss what he said is progress in securing the nation’s borders, and to lay out ongoing initiatives to improve the department’s efforts.

While not mentioning Republicans directly, Johnson also tried to debunk recent attempts by some Republican politicians to highlight the potential of terrorists entering the country through the U.S.-Mexico border.

“In the absence of facts, the American public is susceptible to claims that we have an open, ‘porous’ border, through which unaccompanied minors and members of terrorist organizations such as ISIL may pass,” Johnson said in a prepared statement.

Members of Congress have suggested recently that there were individuals with terrorist ties to the Middle East who have crossed the border. The Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday said in a statement that the suggestion of ties to the Islamic State, also known as ISIL, was “categorically false,” but did not offer further detail.

In his prepared remarks Thursday, Johnson said: “In September the public heard a claim that four individuals with suspected ties to terrorism in the Middle East had attempted to cross our southern border; far fewer know that, in fact, these four individuals were arrested, their supposed link to terrorism was thoroughly investigated and checked, and in the end amounted to a claim by the individuals themselves that they were members of the Kurdish Worker’s Party – an organization that is actually fighting against ISIL and defended Kurdish territory in Iraq.”

DHS spokesman Peter Boogaard declined by email to offer further details on whether the men’s claims were found to be true, referring a reporter back to Johnson’s prepared statement.