NEW DELHI/WASHINGTON: A US federal court has indicted a Pakistani doctor on H1-B visa for his support to the Islamic State (IS) and attempting to carry out a terror plot, raising serious questions about the vetting process in the country’s immigration system.
In an official statement, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) said that the federal grand jury for the district of Minnesota on May 15 indicted 28-year-old Muhammad Masood for attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.
A licensed medical doctor in Pakistan, Masood was formerly employed as a research coordinator at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota under an H1-B visa.
As per his LinkedIn profile, he has a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery from Riphah International University, a General Certificate of Education from the University of Cambridge and a license to practice from the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council.
The DoJ said that between January and March, Masood made several statements to others, including pledging his allegiance to the IS and its leader, and expressed his desire to travel to Syria to fight for the terror group.
The Pakistani national also wanted to carry out ‘lone wolf’ terror attacks in the US. He was initially charged in a criminal complaint on March 19 this year and currently in custody pending further court proceedings.
As per the complaint, Masood was messaging on an encrypted online platform about how sick he had grown of smiling every day at the “passing kuffar” (non-Muslims) and yet he was keeping the pretence “just not to make them suspicious (sic) and I cannot tolerate it anymore”.
In his messages, he mentioned that he could not waste the opportunity while being in the US. “Sometimes I want to (sic) attack enemy when I am behind enemy line (sic) itself,” he messaged in January. “(I) wonder if I will miss the opportunity of attacking the enemy when I was in the middle of it.”
Masood quit his job at the Mayo Clinic, auctioned off his personal belongings and on February 21, bought a plane ticket from Chicago, Illinois to Amman, Jordan and from there planned to travel to Syria.
But his travel plans changed because on March 16, Jordon closed its borders to incoming travel due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In a message, Masood revealed: “… there is so much I wanted to do here … lon wulf (sic) stuff you know … but I realized I should be on the ground helping brothers sisters kids Inshallah.” So he decided to fly from Minneapolis to Los Angeles to meet an individual who he believed would help him with travel via cargo ship to deliver him to the IS territory, the DoJ statement said.
The people whom he was chatting with on the encrypted online messenger were undercover informants for the FBI.
They asked him several times if he was absolutely sure he really wanted to quit his job in the US and join the IS abroad, to which he replied: “I want to kill and get killed … and kill and get killed … and again and again. This is what … Allah wished.”
Todd Bensman who works for the US-based research group Center for Immigration Studies, said that the Masood case was a cause for reassessing current security vetting protocols in countries not on the travel restriction list, to ensure that hot security threats were not imported among the doctors, engineers, and other skilled professionals who use the H-1B visa to leave countries of national security interest.
The American public, elected leaders, and security professionals, he wrote, should never assume that force fields of credibility immunize doctors from security investigations and thorough vetting.
They don’t, as we well learned from Dr. Nidal Hassan’s massacre at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009 and from a bizarrely long list of other Hippocratic Oath breakers.