- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 2, 2003

The FBI is expanding its dragnet for a growing list of foreign-born men it believes may have entered the country illegally from Canada in a false-ID case that has raised terrorism concerns, government officials say.
The officials, some of whom work in law enforcement, told the Associated Press on Tuesday night that the government has identified several more men it fears may have used fake passports to get into the country around or after Christmas Eve.
Authorities named five such men on Sunday and sought the public's help in finding them.
Yesterday, however, a Pakistani jeweler said that his picture is among those of the five suspects, but added that he has never visited the United States.
An AP photograph of Mohammed Asghar, taken at his shop in Lahore yesterday, was a near-perfect match for the one included on the FBI list under the name Mustafa Khan Owasi, down to the prominent mole on Mr. Asghar's left cheek.
Mr. Asghar, 30, said that he was surprised to open a local newspaper and see his picture with another man's name beneath it.
He said that his only attempt at traveling abroad was frustrated when police in the United Arab Emirates discovered he had a forged visa. He suggested that the document forgers he once patronized could have used his picture to create false travel documents for another man.
Abid Noraiz Ali, Iftikhar Khozmai Ali, Adil Pervez and Akbar Jamal were the other four men named.
FBI and Homeland Security officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said they were considering making public yesterday the names and photos of about a half-dozen more men.
The officials cautioned that they have no specific evidence that the men are involved in a terrorist plot, but said that they may have connections to a fake-ID and smuggling ring that involves some people with terrorist connections.
"We don't have any idea of what their intentions might be, but we are mindful that there are still some out there who would try to harm America and harm Americans and so, therefore, we take every threat seriously, every piece of evidence seriously," President Bush said Tuesday as he explained why he ordered the search.
Much of the search has focused on New York City, scene of a large New Year's Eve celebration that went off without incident.
But the broader investigation into fake IDs has spanned several countries, including Canada, Pakistan and Britain, the officials said.
Because intelligence indicated that several men were trying to use fake passports to get into the country before New Year's Day a holiday of significant symbolism to Islamic terrorists U.S. officials were aggressively trying to track them down and ensure that they posed no threat, the officials said.
Several of the men have names or passports from countries with large terrorist presences, further heightening concern, the officials said.
The additional names expected to be made public yesterday have come from the same Canadian intelligence sources that identified the previous five men, the officials said.
The expanded search came as federal authorities received unsubstantiated information that terrorists could initiate a maritime attack on New York City, a threat taken seriously because of the large crowds that typically gather at Times Square on New Year's Eve.
The FBI released on Sunday the photos, names and birth dates of the five and sought the public's help to track them down for questioning. Bureau officials, however, acknowledge that they are not certain about the accuracy of the identities and ages.
The five, described by the FBI as men of Middle Eastern origin, may have fake passports as the information that led to the FBI bulletin came from an investigation into an illegal-passport scheme.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, said at a news conference on Tuesday that it is believed the five crossed the border into New York state with false documents.
She said the Homeland Security Department needs to establish an office dedicated to improving security along the nation's northern border.
Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the new department, said the government's response was akin to that on July 4, when security was increased primarily because of the crowds rather than information about specific threats.
Mr. Johndroe said the information on the new threat was "unsubstantiated, uncorroborated and of suspect credibility."
There are no plans to raise the nation's threat level above yellow, the middle of a five-tiered color-coded rating system, Mr. Johndroe said.


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