- The Washington Times - Friday, January 31, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Thirteen Pakistanis arrested for allegedly running an illegal $5 million credit-card scheme will appear before a judge next week, officials said Friday.

Five of them — Mubeen Malik, Mohammed Iqbal, Sadiqa Sajid, Mohammad Aslam, and Mohammad Sajid — will appear before Magistrate Judge Barry R. Poretz in Alexandria, Va., Tuesday.

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The remaining eight — Ahtsham Altaf; Ali Sher; Arif Khan; Imran Altaf; Irfan A. Ahmad; Kamran Malik; Mohammad Pervez Akhtar and Tipu Sultan — will appear Wednesday for a primary detention hearing, said an official for the U.S. Attorney office for the eastern district of Virginia.

The suspects also are being investigated for possible links to alleged terrorist organizations, officials said.

In all, the FBI is looking at 33 suspects, some of who might have fled to Pakistan. Officials identified a man called Shah Nawaz as the leader of the group and said he might also have fled to Pakistan.

"Shah Nawaz is a fugitive and we believe he is currently in Pakistan," an official for the U.S. attorney's office in the eastern district of Virginia told United Press International.

U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty said credit card fraud was one method terrorists used to conceal their identities.

"We know that terrorists need to conceal their identities to be able to strike, and we know credit card fraud is one of the ways they do it," he said. "But no terrorist link has been established as yet."

Investigations show the men had transferred the ring's profits to banks in Pakistan and Canada. So far, the detectives have traced the transfer of about $100,000 to banks in the two countries.

"Operation Swipe Out," as it is called, took place the day Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, now on his first official visit, was talking with the Bush administration.

McNulty said his department had issued 25 complaints and arrest warrants as part of Operation Swipe Out, a large-scale, white-collar crime initiative.

In addition, eight individuals have either been convicted and sentenced, or have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.

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