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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

ISIS Leader Not Captured at U.S. Airport

Q: Did President Trump’s immigration executive order help capture a leader of ISIS?

A: No. That claim was made in a fake news article.


Was Rasheed Muhammad, a leader of the Islamic State terrorist organization (ISIS), arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Jan. 31, as a result of heightened scrutiny due to President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration?


Several fake news websites have shared an invented story under the headline “Executive Order Leads to Capture of ISIS Leader, Rasheed Muhammad.” The bogus article was first published on Times.com.mx and falsely claimed that President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration was responsible for Muhammad’s arrest at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Jan. 31.

“This marks the first successful story following President Trump’s executive order to protect the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States,” the article claimed. It said that “the suspect attempted to enter the country with a tourist visa and claimed to be visiting family in order to attend this year’s Super Bowl LI.”

But the arrest of “Rasheed Muhammad” never happened.

The executive order — Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States — seeks to impose a 90-day travel ban on the citizens of seven predominately Muslim countries: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. It also would suspend the refugee program indefinitely for Syrians and for 120 days for refugees from other nations.

The order was signed on Jan. 27 and was in effect for one week before a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order on Feb. 3, blocking portions of the order from being enforced. Then on Feb. 9, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco unanimously denied the Justice Department’s emergency motion to have the travel ban reinstated, pending full consideration of the case on its merits.

During the period of full enforcement, citizens of those seven Muslim-majority countries who had previously obtained visas, tourist or otherwise, were stopped and questioned at airports before entering the U.S. However, there were no reports of any arrests of terrorist suspects as a result of the order, which would have received wide news coverage. The unidentified author of the fake story simply made that up.

We checked the Nexis news database, and there were no stories in January or February about a Rasheed Muhammad being arrested at an airport, or anywhere else, for terrorism charges. A spokeswoman for the FBI’s New York office also told the Associated Press that it didn’t arrest anyone at JFK Airport on Jan. 31.

In addition, the photo in the article, of a man in handcuffs being escorted by FBI agents, is not of “Rasheed Muhammad.” It’s a picture of Najibullah Zazi that was taken in 2009 by photographer Chris Schneider. Zazi pled guilty to terrorism charges in 2010 for plotting to carry out a suicide bombing in the New York City subway. Zazi was with al Qaeda, not ISIS.

We also found no evidence that anyone named Rasheed Muhammad is a leader of the Islamic State. Several think tanks and news organizations have published lists of the leading figures in the terrorist organization, and none includes anyone by that name. The leader of ISIS is actually Iraqi national Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and he hasn’t been captured.

The fake news story also fabricates quotes by FBI Director James Comey and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, whom Trump fired for saying she would not defend his immigration order in court.

Yates didn’t apologize to Trump on the social media app Snapchat, as the fake story claimed. There is no evidence that Yates even has a Snapchat account.

And Comey didn’t say that the FBI was “unsure if accomplices are still at large,” because there was no arrest for him to comment on.

Readers should beware of articles published on the Times.com.mx website. It has a similar look as some legitimate news websites, and it even republishes genuine stories from organizations such as the Associated Press, Reuters and Bloomberg. But it also publishes fake news stories and doesn’t offer any disclaimer that the content is not based in reality.

For example, the website published a fictional story in January that claimed Mexican drug cartel leader “El Chapo” contributed to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. It is also responsible for another fake story that claimed college students in California protested the arrest of “Rasheed Muhammad” that did not happen.

Times.com.mx provides other telling signs that it is not a real news website. The bogus article does not carry a byline, and the website does not provide any information about its mission, staff, physical location or even how to contact it. The .mx domain is the internet country code for Mexico, and the website was created on Dec. 27, 2016, according to whois.net, which maintains a database of domain names.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to help identify and label viral fake news stories flagged by readers on the social media network.


Executive Order Leads to Capture of ISIS Leader, Rasheed Muhammad.” Times.com.mx. 31 Jan 2017.

White House. “Executive Order: Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” 27 Jan 2017.

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Associated Press. “AP FACT CHECK: Trump order didn’t lead to IS leader’s arrest.” 8 Feb 2017.

Sulzberger, A.G. and William Rashbaum. “Guilty Plea Made in Plot to Bomb New York Subway.” New York Times. 22 Feb 2010.

Perez, Evan and Jeremy Diamond. “Trump fires acting AG after she declines to defend travel ban.” CNN. 31 Jan 2017.

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