The continuing debate about whether there are jihadist terrorists on the US-Mexico border preparing to attack the US continues to focus on sensational headlines rather than on the facts. Is it possible that jihadist terrorists could use the US-Mexico border to mount an attack on the US? The answer is yes. However, is it probable? The answer is that it is unlikely. Let me explain.
There are many factors that influence how a terrorist attacks a target. Among them are money, accessibility to the target and the ability to move personal and equipment to the target area. Terrorists need logistical support near the target and during transit in order to prepare their weapons and finalize the plans. Among the logistical support needed are local friendlies to provide access to housing, access to money and a place to hide weapons and plan the attack. An obvious source of friendly support are Muslim neighborhoods.
Not all Muslims are terrorists however, like all extremists, within the moderate ranks exist extremists likely to support a terrorist attack. These communities are a major source of friendly support for terrorists. The larger the Muslim population the more likely an extremist is within their ranks. There is a reason terrorists who have attempted to, or have attacked the US have been either homegrown or have entered the US directly from Canada or from overseas Muslim enclaves. Based on these elements, let us examine the likelihood of jihadist terrorists using Mexico as a launch point for a future attack by looking to see if an infrastructure exists for them. Remember that until now there is yet to be a documented instance of a jihadist terrorist attack connected to Mexico.
The question then becomes to what extent are Muslim communities present in Mexico.
Although Mexico is predominantly Roman Catholic it has been undergoing a religious transformation since about the late 1980’s with the encroachment of evangelical churches making inroads into the religious populations. Because of this, the Catholic religion has been on a decline. However, today the Roman Catholic religion accounts for about 83% as of 2010 of the population that identifies itself to a religion. Mormons and Protestants account for about 10%.
According to a Pew Research report from 2009, there are about 110,000 Muslims in Mexico. Some researchers have argued that the actual number is much less than that; however, for now we will accept the number is being accurate. The majority of the Muslims are concentrated in Mexico City and the Chiapas region on the southern border. Less than 1,000 have been identified in Tijuana.
The 2009 Pew report estimated that there were about 2.4 million Muslims in the United States and a little over half a million in Canada. Now let us expand this scenario to feeder countries to the Muslim communities in Canada and the US. The United States has a program called the Visa Waiver Program whereby citizens of certain countries can travel to the US without a visa. France is on the Visa Waiver program. Any French citizen can travel to the US without a visa. There is an estimated Muslim population of about 4 million in France. Germany, also with an estimated population of 4 million Muslims is also on the visa waiver list. The United Kingdom also boasts a little less than 3 million Muslims that can travel to the US without a visa. Canada has about 1 million Muslims.
It is also important to remember that fifteen of the nineteen 9-11 terrorists came from Saudi Arabia, a key middle-east partner for the US. This reflects the need to have logistical support for terrorists from the moment they embark to attack a US target while transiting and in preparation to the actual attack. Larger Muslim population gives them a better opportunity to secure the logistical support they need. Access to money can partially meet the logistical needs however; terrorism has a much larger opportunity for failure when relying on money alone. When faced with the need for access to logistical support versus traversing a border through to the final destination without logistical support then it becomes apparent why the US-Mexico border is not conducive to terrorists to use for attacks on the US homeland.
Is it conceivable for a jihadist terrorist to fly into Mexico and then transit himself into the US through the 2,000-mile porous border? Of course it is. However, contrast that with the alternative of using various visa-waiver countries with much larger Muslim populations and flying directly into a US city with a large Muslim population for logistical support. Geopolitics is a complex issue that is made up of hundreds, if not thousands of intertwined pieces that must come together towards a successful conclusion. A porous border is one item that when compared to the other factors shows that the likelihood is much diminished.
It is important to understand that this apparent lack of Muslim communities in Mexico does not negate the potential to use the US-Mexico border as an attack launching point. What it shows, though, is the potential to use the US-Mexico border as a launching point for an attack is unlikely because there are other Muslim neighborhoods within the US and in Europe that gives the would be terrorist the needed access to Muslim neighborhoods they need for logistical support.