- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 8, 2003

The FBI has called off a nationwide manhunt for five men of Arab descent over concerns about the credibility of a government informant who told authorities the men had been smuggled into the United States last month.
Information from Michael John Hamdani, an accused immigrant smuggler who has been jailed in Canada since October, prompted an FBI alert complete with photos seeking the public's assistance in locating the five men who were believed to have entered the country illegally on Christmas Eve from Canada using forged passports.
The Dec. 29 alert, sent by the FBI to police agencies in this country and abroad, was cancelled yesterday. Authorities said the names of the men and their photos would be removed from the FBI's Web site, and a message sent to law enforcement agencies across the country advising them the search was off.
"As a result of uncovering fabricated information, there is no longer a need for public assistance in locating the five individuals," FBI spokesman Bill Carter said in a statement. "We are not looking for them anymore."
The nationwide search had been ordered by President Bush, who referred to the case as "serious."
The FBI alert had sought information on the whereabouts of Abid Noraiz Ali, 25, Mustafa Khan Owasi, 33, Iftikhar Khozmai Ali, 21, Adil Pervez, 19, and Akbar Jamal, 28, "based upon information developed in the course of ongoing investigations." It noted that while the FBI had no specific information the five were tied to any potential terrorist activities, authorities wanted to locate them for questioning.
Mr. Hamdani had been held at the maximum-security Millhaven Institution about 100 miles east of Toronto on forgery charges since his Oct. 29 arrest and was in custody there when he reportedly provided the information that sparked the FBI manhunt.
Charges against Mr. Hamdani in Canada were dropped last week, although he was ordered deported yesterday to the United States, where he faces separate charges related to a 1996 forgery investigation. He is expected to appear later this week in a New York court for arraignment.
Mr. Hamdani's information, which included the names and photographs of 14 other men who were not included in the FBI alert, was called into question when a Pakistani man came forward to say his picture had erroneously been posted with another man's name attached.
Mohammed Asghar, a Pakistani jeweler, told authorities his photograph had wrongly been included among the five men and speculated it might have been stolen by document forgers. An FBI photograph of Mustafa Khan Owasi was a near-perfect match of that of Mr. Asghar down to a prominent mole on Mr. Asghar's left cheek.
Deepak Paradkar, Mr. Hamdani's attorney, yesterday denied any wrongdoing by his client.
"Whatever information they gave authorities, there are a number of steps I think they would have taken to verify the information," Mr. Paradkar told reporters. "I don't think he would have misled the authorities."
Mr. Hamdani, 44, was born in Pakistan but came to Canada and was granted immigrant status on Jan. 6, 1994. He is married to a Canadian citizen and has three children, all Canadians.
While in custody, authorities said, he cooperated with U.S. and Canadian law enforcement and intelligence agencies in several national security investigations regarding fraudulent travel documents.
That cooperation resulted, in part, in the FBI's decision to issue an alert for the five foreign-born men whom Mr. Hamdani said had entered the United States illegally, they said.
Mr. Hamdani is accused in the United States of selling fraudulent identity documents after being caught on tape selling 10 blank Canadian passports, 15 blank Pakistani passports, 10 blank Indian passports and other travel and identity papers to an undercover FBI informant, according to court documents.
The FBI has focused on suspected document forgers in Pakistan in the bureau's ongoing terrorist investigation. Scores of illegal aliens are believed to have been smuggled from Pakistan into the United States through friendly countries, including Canada.
Pakistan is believed to be a key base of operations for the al Qaeda terrorist network.
Mr. Hamdani reportedly told authorities that the five men along with 14 others traveled from Pakistan to Canada by way of London, en route to the United States.

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