WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that U.S. authorities had “caught 10 terrorists,” citing it as a reason for why the United States should build a wall on its Mexican border, but four government sources said there was no recent evidence of terrorism suspects being caught along the border.
A senior U.S. counterterrorism official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said: “We do not have evidence of known or suspected foreign terrorist organizations trying to infiltrate the southern U.S. border.”
Three national security officials agreed with that view, saying they knew of no recent border-related arrests. The three officials also asked not to be identified.
In a contentious White House meeting on Tuesday with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, Trump demanded $5 billion in taxpayer funding for his wall, threatening a federal shutdown if he did not get the money.
“People are pouring into our country, including terrorists,” he said. “We have terrorists. We caught 10 terrorists over the last very short period of time. Ten. These are very serious people. Our border agents, all of our law enforcement has been incredible what they’ve done. ... We need the wall.”
The president did not say when or where the “terrorists” were caught. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment about his remarks.
One national security source said U.S. authorities had in recent years captured one terrorism suspect trying to cross into the United States over a land border.
Department of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said on June 12 at a security forum that her agency identifies and stops terrorists worldwide who would otherwise go undetected.
“In fact, on average, my department now blocks 10 known or suspected terrorists a day from traveling to or attempting to enter the United States,” she said.
Ahead of Nov. 6 congressional elections, Trump and his allies said the United States was under threat from a caravan of migrants moving north mostly from Central America toward the U.S.-Mexico border. He also said, without providing evidence, that “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners” were mixed in with the caravan, a claim immigration advocates disputed.
Days before the elections, Trump ordered more than 5,000 troops to the border.
Democrats have proposed $1.3 billion in spending on general border security as part of a package that must pass by Dec. 21 to avert a partial shutdown of the federal government.
Reporting by Mark Hosenball and Jonathan Landay; Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Peter Cooney