Posted on April 12, 2024

Man on Terror Watchlist Remains in U.S. After Being Released by Border Patrol

Julia Ainsley et al., NBC, April 11, 2024

An Afghan migrant on the terror watchlist spent nearly a year inside the U.S. after being apprehended and released by Border Patrol agents in 2023, U.S. officials tell NBC News. The Afghan national was arrested last month and then released again by an immigration judge who was not told he was a national security threat.

Mohammad Kharwin, 48, is currently out on bond as he awaits an immigration hearing in Texas, scheduled for 2025. There are no restrictions on his movements inside the United States, U.S. officials said.

Kharwin was initially apprehended on March 10, 2023, near San Ysidro, California, after crossing the Mexico-U.S. border illegally.

Border agents suspected he was on the U.S. terrorist watchlist at the time of his apprehension because one piece of information matched an individual on the list. But the agents lacked corroborating information, which officials declined to describe, that would confirm Kharwin was the person they suspected, according to U.S. officials.

After processing Kharwin and taking his biometric data, Customs and Border Protection released him as they would any other migrant, without alerting Immigration and Customs Enforcement about possible terrorism ties, U.S. officials said.

Kharwin was referred to ICE’s Alternatives to Detention Program, requiring him to check in periodically by phone with an ICE officer. Kharwin was able to apply for asylum and work authorization, and fly domestically in the United States, the officials said.

Kharwin is on the national terror watchlist maintained by the FBI, which contains the names of 1.8 million individuals considered potential security risks. The database indicates he is a member of Hezb-e-Islami, or HIG, a political and paramilitary organization that the U.S. has designated a terrorist organization.

According to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, HIG is a “virulently anti-Western insurgent group” that sought to overturn the Western-backed Afghan government before its fall in 2021.


In February 2024, the FBI passed information to ICE indicating that Kharwin had potential terror ties and may pose a risk to national security. Soon after, and nearly a year after he was released near the border, ICE agents conducted an operation and arrested Kharwin on Feb. 28 in San Antonio, Texas, according to sources familiar with the case.

Kharwin was held in ICE detention until his court hearing on March 28, when he appeared before an immigration judge in Pearsall, Texas. Immigration judges decide whether migrants can stay legally in the U.S., continue to be detained or be deported.

When ICE prosecutors appeared in court, they did not share with the judge some classified information that purportedly showed Kharwin’s ties to HIG, two U.S. officials said. Prosecutors argued that the man should be detained without bond because he was a flight risk, but they did not say that he was a national security risk, according to sources familiar with the case.

The judge ordered Kharwin released on bond. {snip}


Earlier this year, a migrant with ties to the Somali terror group al-Shabaab was arrested in Minnesota after living in the U.S. for nearly a year, the Daily Caller reported.

In that case, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center made a “redetermination” that he should be placed on the watchlist after he was released, the Daily Caller reported.

A June 2023 DHS Inspector General Report reviewed an incident from April 2022 in which a migrant was released because information that would have linked him to the watchlist was not properly gathered. The report did not disclose the migrant’s nationality but it found that the CBP sent a request for more information to the wrong email address.


In fiscal year 2023, which ended in late September and included a surge in border crossings, CBP had 736 encounters with migrants on the terror watchlist at U.S. borders, the highest number of the past six years. The second highest year was 2019, during the Trump administration, when CBP had 541 encounters with migrants on the watchlist.