Federal officials say Afghan refugee accused of rape in Missoula was properly vetted

By: - November 9, 2021 3:30 pm

The Missoula County Court House pictured on December 20, 2020. (Provided by Tommy Martino for the Daily Montanan)

An Afghan evacuee recently charged with rape in Missoula had no prior criminal history and completed a “rigorous and multi-layered” vetting process before entering the country, according to the U.S. Secretary of State and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security.

Zabihullah Mohmand is accused of raping a woman in a downtown hotel in Missoula in October and has pleaded not guilty to one count of felony sexual intercourse without consent. Mohmand is in Montana on humanitarian parole and is one of 20 Afghan resettlers in the state as part of the federal Afghan Placement and Assistance Program.

The incident sparked backlash from Montana’s Republican governor and GOP members of the state’s congressional delegation, who called on President Joe Biden to halt Afghan resettlement to Missoula, alleging Mohmand had not been adequately vetted.

At a press conference in October, Gov. Greg Gianforte did not explain why he thought the 19-year-old was not properly vetted. The governor’s office told the Missoulian on Nov. 5 that he had not received a response from the president.

A spokesperson for the Governor’s Office did not respond to a question about whether Gianforte had seen the letter or if he was satisfied with the extent of the vetting process or still had concerns.

The letter from Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas to U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, outlines the vetting process Mohmand went through.

“[Mohmand] completed the rigorous and multi-layered screening and vetting process,” the letter reads. “Prior to being granted entry into the United States, no derogatory information, including a criminal record, was identified.”

The process includes vetting by the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center and other intelligence agencies. Together the agencies analyze fingerprints, photos and other biometric and biographic data for every Afghan evacuee. Evacuees then undergo further screening from U.S. Customs and Border Protection when they arrive at a U.S. port of entry.

If Mohmand is convicted or pleads guilty to the charge and is found to be in violation of his parole conditions, he could be subject to removal proceedings, the letter states.

“If an Afghan evacuee engages in criminal activity after arriving in the United States, the evacuee may be subject to prosecution, revocation of parole and placement in removal proceedings,” the letter says. But, it says, “these cases are extremely rare.”

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Keith Schubert
Keith Schubert

Keith Schubert is a reporter for the Daily Montanan. Keith was born and raised in Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2019. He has worked at the St.Paul Pioneer Press, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and most recently, the Asbury Park Press, covering everything from local craft fairs to crime and courts to municipal government to the Minnesota state legislature. In his free time, he enjoys cheering on Wisconsin sports teams and exploring small businesses. He can be reached by text or call at 406-475-2954 .