ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — Three Iraqis living in the U.S. as refugees have been charged with visa fraud after prosecutors say they hid their family ties to a kidnapper.
Yousif Al Mashhandani, 35, of Vienna, and Adil Hasan, 38, of Burke, were arrested Tuesday morning. A summons was issued for Hasan’s wife, 32-year-old Enas Ibrahim.
All three came to the U.S. in 2008 and settled in the Washington suburbs after applying for refugee status. They now have lawful permanent resident status with citizenship applications pending.
But prosecutors say the two men are relatives of Majid Al Mashhandani. According to court papers, he has admitted his role in the 2004 kidnapping of U.S. contractor Roy Hallums, who spent nearly a year in captivity before he was freed in an Army raid.
Prosecutors say the brothers failed to disclose their relationship to Majid on their visa applications, as required by law.
The case comes in the midst of national debate over U.S. authorities’ ability to effectively vet refugee applicants. President Donald Trump has issued an executive order that temporarily suspends the nation’s refugee program to allow time for a review of the screening process. Refugee advocates argue that the vetting process is already very strict, and a federal judge has temporarily blocked Trump’s executive order from taking effect.
In a phone interview Tuesday after she received her court summons, Ibrahim admitted that while they were living in a refugee camp in Jordan, they failed to disclose their relationship to Majid. She said other refugees told her that if they disclosed a relationship to a relative implicated in a kidnapping, their refugee application would never be approved.
“We just wanted to leave our country,” she said. “When we started the process we were just scared to add his name.”
Last year, she said, the FBI questioned her and her husband, and they explained everything. They gave agents Majid’s address and every bit of information they had about him, and Ibrahim said she even offered to go with agents to Iraq to help them find him.
“I thought we were OK,” she said. “The agent was very nice. He said, ‘We know you are good people.’ I told him, ‘Just put yourself — if you were us, and you had someone behind you who wants to kill you.’ ”
She said her husband worked in Baghdad’s Green Zone and was a target for terrorists.
In court papers, prosecutors allege that Ibrahim and her husband embellished the threat they faced, saying that Hasan had been kidnapped, tortured by a Shia militia, and released after paying a $20,000 ransom. In reality, according to papers, Hasan later acknowledged that he was only once stopped at a Shia militia checkpoint for five hours, and slapped once on his shoulder with an open hand.
The court affidavit also says that Yousif Al Mashhandani’s fingerprint was found on a document in the building where Hallums was held.
Ibrahim said that her husband’s father kept all the family paperwork in the same place, and that it’s not surprising that some of Yousif’s and Majid’s paperwork was commingled.
The three defendants are scheduled to make initial appearances in federal court in Alexandria Tuesday afternoon.
Ibrahim wept as she contemplated the implications of the criminal case on her family, which includes two children, ages 5 and 6, who were born in the United States.