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Turkey-based smuggler with ISIL ties helped Uzbeks cross US-Mexico border: report

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A smuggler with ties to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) who was based in Turkey helped Uzbek migrants enter the US from Mexico, CNN reported on Tuesday, citing an anonymous US official.

The FBI is investigating a group of more than a dozen Uzbek migrants who entered the United States through the southern border with the assistance of a Turkey-based smuggler linked to ISIL, according to CNN and multiple US officials cited by Reuters. While no specific terror plot has been identified, the episode has raised questions about border security amid a surge of asylum seekers.

National Security Council spokesman Adrienne Watson stated on Tuesday that US officials are working diligently to “identify and assess” all individuals who gained entry. While none of the migrants facilitated by this network have been proven to have a connection to a foreign terrorist organization, the issue has set off alarms among counterterrorism officials.

The migrants had originally applied for asylum and were vetted by the Department of Homeland Security. Only later did it emerge that the migrants had come with the help of a smuggler with ISIL sympathies, leading to urgent intelligence briefings between senior national security officials and Congress.

Turkish authorities arrested the smuggler and other members of the network after collaborating with the FBI. Despite the arrest, the smuggler is not believed to be a member of ISIL, but rather an independent contractor with sympathies for the extremist group.

Migrants who “fit the profile” of those assisted by the smugglers are being placed in rapid deportation proceedings and “thoroughly vetted,” Watson said.

US officials have noted a significant increase in the number of migrants from Central Asia, an area not traditionally known as a significant source of refugees to the country.

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