Two refugees from Iraq have been arrested on terrorism-related charges by U.S. federal authorities, prompting renewed criticism of a White House plan to accept thousands of refugees from war-torn parts of the Middle East.
Both men were Palestinians from Iraq who have been in the U.S. for several years, according to U.S. officials. The men may have been in contact with each other, but do not appear to have been planning any attacks in the U.S., the officials said.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 23-year-old Aws Mohammed Younis Al-Jayab was arrested Thursday in Sacramento, California, where he was charged with making false statements involving international terrorism.
Al-Jayab came to the U.S. from Syria in 2012 as a refugee. He is accused of lying to authorities about his travels to Syria, where according to social media postings, he fought with extremist groups, including Ansar al-Islam.
Omar Faraj Saeed Al-Hardan, 24, was arrested in Houston, Texas. He is accused of attempting to provide material support, including "training, and expert advice and assistance" to the Islamic State group, according to a federal indictment.
Al-Hardan, who entered the U.S. as a refugee from Iraq in 2009 and later gained permanent residence status, is also accused of making false statement to naturalization officials about his links to terrorist groups.
Both men are set to appear in courts Friday.
The cases are likely to reignite a debate in the U.S. over whether the White House should move ahead with its plans to accept 10,000 refugees this year from Syria, despite security concerns.
In Texas, where authorities have tried to block federal attempts to settle Syrian refugees, Governor Greg Abbott used the arrests as an occasion to offer renewed criticism of the resettlement plan.
"This is precisely why I called for a halt to refugees entering the U.S. from countries substantially controlled by terrorists," he said in a statement. "I once again urge the president to halt the resettlement of these refugees in the United States until there is an effective vetting process that will ensure refugees do not compromise the safety of Americans and Texans."
The White House has said all refugees entering the U.S. are subject to a rigorous screening process.