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Story highlights

Iraqis arrested on terror charges in Bowling Green, Kentucky, but there was no massacre

Two men's 2011 arrests led to slowdown in admitting Iraqi refugees but not ban on them

(CNN) —  

There was never a “Bowling Green massacre.”

Here’s what happened: In 2011, two Iraqi men were arrested on charges related to terrorism in Bowling Green, Kentucky. They were later convicted of trying to get weapons and money from the United States to al Qaeda in Iraq. They were also convicted of helping al Qaeda carry out attacks on American troops in Iraq.

In fact, the two men never plotted any attacks inside the United States, according to the head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division at the time.

Waad Ramadan Alwan and Mohanad Shareef Hammadi were arrested as part of an FBI sting operation after being under the bureau’s surveillance for months. All the weapons they had planned on shipping were already under the FBI’s control at the time of their arrest.

The men pleaded guilty to all the counts against them. Alwan was sentenced to 40 years in prison, and Hammadi received life in prison.

The discovery of these two men prompted the Obama administration to make temporary changes to the way Iraqi refugees and visa applicants were admitted into the United States.

But in defending the new travel ban on immigrants and refugees, Donald Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway cited a nonexistent “Bowling Green massacre” in an interview Thursday.

How it affected national security

Alwan and Hammadi were both admitted to the United States as refugees. As a direct response to their arrests, the Department of Homeland Security re-vetted 58,000 refugees already in the country, imposed vetting on 25,000 other Iraqi citizens still in Iraq and significantly tightened the processing of Iraqi visa/refugee applications for six months.

The move was different from Trump’s travel ban, which has ensnared people who already have green cards and valid visas. The new executive order encompasses seven nations and has prevented some legal immigrants already inside the United States from leaving the country since their ability to come back in has not been assured.

Conway attempted to clarify her comments Friday morning, saying the media reported on the story before asking her “what (she) meant.”