US authorities have arrested and charged a Virginia man with trying to help nearly 300 people illegally enter the United States from the war-torn country of Somalia where al Qaeda militants have been active.
The man, Anthony Joseph Tracy, admitted to law enforcement officials he helped some 272 Somalis obtain fraudulent visas in Kenya with the goal of landing in the United States, according to an affidavit filed in a federal court in Virginia earlier this month.
In addition, Tracy, 35, said during a lie-detector test that he had been approached by the militant group al-Shabaab in Kenya, “but he claimed that he refused to assist them,” said Thomas Eyre, special agent in the US Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office of Investigations.
The United States has accused al-Shabaab, an Islamist militant group, as being a proxy for al Qaeda in the Horn of Africa nation. It has been designated a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” by the US State Department.
Tracy, who was arrested on February 5, told authorities in interviews he spent months in Kenya where he helped the Somalis obtain visas from the Cuban embassy as well an unnamed South American country, according to the affidavit.
“Tracy stated that he knew that the final destination for the Somalis for whom he obtained visas was the United States, with the visas fraudulently obtained in Kenya being the first step in the process,” Eyre said in the affidavit.
Authorities did not state in the court documents how many Somalis may have entered the United States with Tracy’s help.
While prosecutors portrayed Tracy as a young man who converted to Islam while in a US prison in the 1990s, his lawyer said in a court document that he simply was a 35-year-old American citizen with a wife and five children, and that he “has every intention to remain here and contest these charges.”
In Minnesota, US authorities have charged 14 people with recruiting, training or financing travel for young Somali immigrants to travel to Africa to fight for al-Shabaab.
About 20 young men, all but one of Somali descent, have left the Minneapolis area since September 2007 to train with and fight for al-Shabaab, authorities have said.