SAN BENITO — U.S. law enforcement officials say a trail of lies and false statements by a Brownsville man linked to a Palestinian terror group has come to an end.
George Zahi Rafidi, in his mid-40s, was charged with six counts of lying under oath to U.S. officials who say he was trying to hide his ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine as well as several criminal convictions as he sought U.S. citizenship.
On Thursday, federal and local law enforcement officials raided a San Benito car dealership, Lone Star Motors at 1810 W. Business 77, as well as a Brownsville business and Rafidi’s home there.
It is not clear why the raids were carried out because officials are not commenting.
Yesterday, Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz said in a text message that he could not comment or provide further information “at this time.”
Federal officials with the Department of Homeland Security indicated further information will be made public later.
Rafidi’s presence in the United States dates back to 2000, when he entered on a tourist visa. He was later granted political asylum and then became a permanent resident.
Last year Rafidi applied for U.S. citizenship, which led to a review of his case and federal officials discovered he had lied under oath by concealing his terrorist ties, according to the indictment.
Rafidi, born in Ramallah in the West Bank, pleaded guilty in 1997 to belonging to an illegal organization, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Since the 1960s, the PFLP has been involved in dozens of bombings, air hijackings and other terrorist attacks primarily in the Middle East.
Rafidi served 10 months of his 18-month sentence and was released by an Israeli military court in a prisoner exchange.
In 2000, he entered the United States and applied for asylum but did not tell U.S. officials of his conviction or his plea deal with the Israeli military court, according to federal prosecutors. His application for asylum was granted in 2002.
In Texas, Rafidi was convicted of shoplifting in Humble and felony theft in Pasadena. For the latter, he received three years’ probation.
In 2009, he was detained trying to cross into Mexico on the Gateway International Bridge in Brownsville carrying nearly $29,000 in undeclared cash out of the United States.
The indictment claims Rafidi applied for permanent resident status in the United States in 2003, but hid links to the PFLP and did not disclose his criminal past, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
In 2007, he was granted permanent resident status and in 2012 made application for citizenship, again covering up his arrests, convictions and PFLP links, prosecutors say.
Prosecutors say his story began to unravel when he was interviewed in 2018 by a U.S. immigration officer in Cameron County regarding his naturalization application. Under oath, he reaffirmed his early testimony without referring to his criminal past or PFLP ties.