A Pakistani doctor who got an H-1B temporary work visa to join the prestigious Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., is going to federal prison for incubating a plot to kill fellow Hippocratic oath takers while “behind enemy lines,” as he wrote in an encrypted jihadist social-media channel.
He’d grown sick of forever smiling at the nonbeliever “kuffar” doctors around him at the world-renowned medical clinic that sponsored his visa “just not to make them suspicious. I cannot tolerate it anymore. There is so much I wanted to do here. Lon wulf [sic] stuff you know. I want to kill and get killed. . . and kill and get killed. . . again and again.”
Fortunately, in March 2020, the FBI nabbed Dr. Muhammad Masood before he could enact a new plan to catch a cargo vessel in Los Angeles that was to deliver him to the Islamic State terrorist group in Syria, where he had decided instead to work as a trained killer and combat medic.
“I wonder if I will miss the opportunity of attacking the enemy when I was in the middle of it,” he told an FBI informant of his plan to go abroad.
Last week, a federal judge hit the 31-year-old with an 18-year sentence for providing ISIS material support.
But no one should feel gratified and move on.
The typically perfunctory media coverage of this latest Islamic-terror case evaded the civic obligation to explore broader homeland-security questions it naturally raises.
Chief among these is whether US visa security vetting is sufficient to detect or at least reasonably anticipate hot threats among the doctors, software engineers and other skilled H-1B visa applicants before they depart their home countries of US terrorism concern like Pakistan, final home of Osama bin Laden.
The government received more than 483,000 H-1B visa applications for 2023 and more than 780,000 for 2024.
President Donald Trump’s “travel ban” on seven countries of terrorism concern didn’t include Pakistan, but blocking threats like Masood (even if he wasn’t flagged on terror-risk profiles when he came here in 2018) was the ban’s point.
President Joe Biden ended Trump’s “discriminatory” visa restrictions — amid criticism from institutions like Mayo that the policy wrongly blocked the entry of doctors from those countries.
That leaves American security professionals to assume that force fields of credibility immunize doctors from thorough vetting.
But they should infer nothing about doctors’ interest in global jihad, no matter where they are from, as we learned from US Army Dr. Nidal Hasan’s shooting massacre of fellow soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009 and from an unexpectedly long list of other terrorist Hippocratic-oath breakers.
Research-based evidence and other reporting show that medical doctors from foreign countries become terrorists or terrorist leaders in shocking numbers.
There’s Osama bin Laden’s successor, of course, the Egyptian al Qaeda mastermind and surgeon Ayman al-Zawahiri.
There’s George Habash, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine founder who became an infamous bomber and hijacker of passenger jets in the 1960s and 1970s, and Fathi Shaqaqi, who founded the blood-drenched Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the 1980s.
Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi, the late Hamas leader, was a pediatrician.
Doctors and other highly educated professionals can be operators, too.
Eight suspects in the foiled 2007 “Physicians Plot” to bomb London and Glasgow targets were physicians and medical professionals, such as the Iraqi-born Dr. Bilal Abdullah, arrested trying to blow up a jeep packed with gas cylinders at the Glasgow airport.
There’s the American-educated “Lady al Qaeda,” Pakistan-born Aafia Siddiqui. She’s in federal prison in Texas after a 2010 conviction for grabbing an M4 rifle from her US soldier captors in Afghanistan and opening fire on them while screaming “Allah Akbar!”
Siddiqui is an MIT-trained neuroscientist who earned a PhD from Brandeis University before going on to plot mass-casualty attacks on New York City landmarks and killing Americans in Afghanistan.
Doctors and medical students from around the world came running in 2015 when ISIS put out a call for foreign health workers.
Their boss was Kefah Basheer Hussein, a rheumatology doctor who was ISIS “health minister.”
This physician oversaw organ and blood harvesting from captives to be executed.
For his part, Muhammad Masood looked great on paper, probably leaving US officials inclined to make presumptions, him being a doctor and all.
Court records and his LinkedIn profile show he earned a Bachelor of Medicine from the Islamic International Medical College in Islamabad and a Bachelor of Surgery from Riphah International University.
He earned a General Certificate of Education from the University of Cambridge and held a license to practice from the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council.
Masood joined the Rochester Mayo Clinic in early 2018, and court records indicate he likely already held extreme views; a brief marriage shortly after he arrived failed — “apparent fallout from Defendant’s demand that she conform her behavior to strict Islamic tenets,” the government sentencing memorandum states.
He went on during 2019 to study the lectures of the Hellfire-missile-killed American imam Anwar al-Awlaki, whose repeated calls for violence still incite jihadists.
The Masood case raises the question: How are we vetting professionals like this from countries of terrorist concern?
Not very well, as this Center for Immigration Studies database of security vetting failures shows.
Federal officials familiar with H-1B visa vetting processes say the Homeland Security and State departments check applications for obvious fraud and run databases for terrorism-watch-list or criminal-history hits.
An in-country US consular officer might call the applicant in for perfunctory interviews. But there’s not much checking of online life or interviewing friends, relatives and former employers who might report a terrorism proclivity.
“It’s the same amount of vetting as to go on vacation at Walt Disney World,” one DHS vetting veteran recently explained to me. “You do everything you possibly can and, just, you know? If all of his paperwork was in order, and a consulate officer said, ‘He’s a doctor and going to the Mayo Clinic,’ they’re just not going to do a lot of checking.”
In other words: Fingers crossed.
Todd Bensman is the author of “Overrun: How Joe Biden Unleashed the Greatest Border Crisis in U.S. History.”