[As 2013 comes to a close, the ABC News Brian Ross Investigative Unit looks back on its major projects over the last year.]
In 2009, the FBI received an intelligence tip that an Iraqi refugee in Bowling Green, Kentucky, named Waad Ramadan Alwan might by sympathetic to insurgents in his homeland, which he allegedly fled to avoid persecution or death. But as agents began monitoring Alwan and recruited an undercover informant to befriend him, they came to the startling conclusion that Alwan himself had been a terrorist back in Iraq and was now gleefully boasting about having targeted American troops in sniper and bomb attacks. He said he had American G.I.s “for lunch and dinner.”
Alwan, who lived in public housing and received public assistance payments from the U.S. government, soon recruited an unemployed relative in the same sleepy college town, Mohanad Shareef Hammadi, as they joined what in reality was an FBI sting operation to ship heavy weapons such as machine guns and Stinger missiles to al Qaeda in Iraq.
The pair were captured in an FBI surveillance video handling the heavy weapons the FBI said they believed would go half-way around the world to kill American soldiers. The video was obtained during an extensive ABC News investigation of the case for ABC News' “Good Morning America,” “World News with Diane Sawyer” and “Nightline.”
Exclusive: FBI Video Shows Al Qaeda in Kentucky Handling Heavy Weapons
Incredibly, FBI officials who maintain an archive outside Washington containing the remnants of 100,000 improvised explosive devices that targeted U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade matched Alwan’s fingerprints to a cordless phone base station attached to three huge bombs buried in a road in Bayji, Iraq. The unexploded IED had been dug up in 2005 but sat unexamined in a box in the Bureau’s “bomb library” for years. Both Alwan and Hammadi pleaded guilty last year to federal terrorism charges, including an admission of being al Qaeda-Iraq insurgents who had attacked American troops overseas.
But they’re not the only refugees inside the U.S. homeland under investigation for handling IEDs in overseas warzones.
FBI Supervisory Special Agent Gregory Carl, director of the Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center in Quantico, Virginia, revealed to ABC News that his fingerprint examiners are trying to find matches on IEDs in their archive to many individuals currently under investigation for terrorism.
“I can tell you, we are currently supporting dozens of current counter-terrorism investigations like that,” Carl told ABC News in an interview. “I think that's what shows the seriousness of all of this.”
WATCH the original ABC News report.
Impact: The case highlighted connections between the two Iraqis living as refugees in Kentucky and a specific August 2005 IED attack that killed four Pennsylvania National Guardsmen patrolling in a humvee near Bayji. After ABC’s broadcasts, congressional leaders alarmed that dozens of possible IED makers and handlers might have slipped into the U.S., asked the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI to explain how the two got into the U.S. as refugees in 2009 without their terrorist ties being known and what security steps have been taken since then -- besides halting Iraqi refugee admissions for half a year in 2011 -- to thwart other terrorists from fraudulently entering the country.
At the time of the ABC News report, Department of Homeland Security spokesperson Peter Boogaard said in a statement that the U.S. government "continually improves and expands its procedures for vetting immigrants, refugees and visa applicants, and today [the] vetting process considers a far broader range of information than it did in past years."
"Our procedures continue to check applicants' names and fingerprints against records of individuals known to be security threats, including the terrorist watchlist, or of law enforcement concern... These checks are vital to advancing the U.S. government's twin goal of protecting the world's most vulnerable persons while ensuring U.S. national security and public safety," the statement said.