- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 3, 2002

Sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad illegally obtained an Antiguan passport in July 2000 by presenting immigration officials with obviously forged documents that "should have been observed" by authorities, according to a report released yesterday by Antigua's attorney general.
"It seems clear to us that had [Mr. Muhammads] documentation been examined carefully, his application would have been rejected," the report says. If Antigua's immigration officials had not been so careless, the report adds, the sniper suspect's forgeries "may have been referred to the police and become the subject of a criminal prosecution for forgery."
But the sniper suspect eluded detection on the Caribbean island-nation about 300 miles east of Puerto Rico.
"He was able to evade the Antigua and Barbuda immigration authorities. He entered with false documents and our immigration officials did not detect this," said Antigua's Attorney General Gertel Thom, who appointed the investigative task force that wrote the report.
What's more, Antigua and Barbuda's prime minister yesterday said he himself may have been in danger while the sniper suspect was living in the country.
Citing the task force's report, Prime Minister Lester Bird said he was "deeply troubled" by an unreleased part of the report about Mr. Muhammad's activities in Antigua.
"As head of national security, I have been informed that my own safety may have been at risk," he said. "These matters, I understand, will be addressed in the task force's final report," due to be released in six weeks.
Government officials did not promptly provide additional details.
A witness told investigators that Mr. Muhammad once suggested kidnapping the prime minister for a ransom, the Associated Press reported last night. However, there was no indication that Mr. Muhammad had acted on that suspected threat. Officials did not identify the witness who gave the information.
Mr. Bird issued a statement saying he will "act immediately" to ensure that future mistakes are avoided and the examination of passport applications is conducted "only by staff who are trained to detect forgeries and false documents."
Mrs. Thom said the task force is conducting a more thorough probe into Mr. Muhammad's actions in Antigua.
Mr. Muhammad, 41, and John Lee Malvo, 17, face federal and state charges in connection with a months-long sniper rampage that left 14 persons dead in Maryland, Virginia, Alabama, Louisiana, Washington state and the District. They are being held in a maximum security prison in Baltimore.
Federal law-enforcement sources last week said Mr. Muhammad is suspected of selling counterfeit identity papers and stolen credit cards for $1,000 to $3,500 each in a scheme described as "a one-man operation."
John Fuller, a member of the Antiguan task force, told The Washington Times that Mr. Muhammad, a former soldier, is suspected of "forging U.S. travel identity, such as driver's licenses and birth certificates to help people get into the United States."
The FBI and local authorities are continuing to investigate the forgery operation.
"There are suggestions that he was using good American [computer] technology, like Adobe Photoshop, to produce fake documents," Mr. Fuller said.
One federal official said investigators believe the former soldier was "actively involved" in the sale of driver's licenses, noting that several were found in his possession when he was arrested Oct. 24 in Maryland. Many of the licenses, the official said, contained his picture but with different names.
Mr. Muhammad lived in Antigua in 2000 and 2001. While there, he became close with the teenager, who had traveled to the island from Jamaica with his mother.
The .223-caliber semiautomatic rifle they are suspected of using in the sniper shootings in Maryland, Virginia and the District that left 10 persons dead between Oct. 2 and Oct. 22 was tied through ballistic tests last week to earlier killings in Alabama, Louisiana and Washington state.
Asked whether she or other officials in Antigua felt any responsibility for the sniper rampage, Mrs. Thom said, "We don't know how many other fraudulent activities that he was involved in before this."
She said she did not know what disciplinary action might be taken against immigration officials who failed to detect the forgeries on Mr. Muhammad's passport application.
In a related matter, the Associated Press reported that a federal judge in Baltimore has refused to allow open access to a court hearing tomorrow for Mr. Malvo.
Magistrate Judge James K. Bredar ruled Friday that public interest in the sniper cases does not outweigh the suspect's right to be shielded from scrutiny as a juvenile. The Associated Press, The Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the New York Times have filed a motion to be allowed to attend the hearing.
The hearing is expected to determine whether the teenager should be detained on federal juvenile charges in the sniper attacks. Judge Bredar said it could include "embarrassing" and "delicate" testimony about the teenager's mental health, family history and past conduct.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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