- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 22, 2004

TOKYO — Reports that a French fugitive suspected of links to al Qaeda and with a history of violent crime slipped into Japan and lived quietly as a car dealer for more than a year have shocked the country, where immigration agents pride themselves on keeping tight controls on foreigners.

The news accounts of Lionel Dumont’s entry into Japan — so far only partially confirmed by authorities — have clearly rattled Japanese security officials and raised questions about their ability to block infiltration by potential terrorists and other criminals.

“He appears to have entered Japan using a fake name. I regret our failure to catch him,” Justice Minister Daizo Nozawa said Friday.

Dumont was arrested in Germany in December and was extradited to France on Tuesday. His story caused particular concern because of fears that Japan could be the target of a terrorist attack because of its support for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Tokyo has deployed hundreds of soldiers in southern Iraq on a humanitarian mission, despite public uneasiness about security.

Reflecting the jitters, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi ordered authorities Wednesday to boost security in public areas and at immigration points. The head of the Public Security Intelligence Agency, Takashi Oizumi, issued an urgent warning to his colleagues Thursday.

“I want you to work at gathering information as if Japan were at risk of being the target of a terror attack tomorrow,” he said during a briefing, without making a reference to Dumont.

In a country with a tiny expatriate community — less than 2 percent of the 127 million population — and already in the midst of a crackdown on crime by foreigners, the reported ease of Dumont’s entry is startling.

French authorities have long associated Dumont, a Muslim, with the violent Roubaix gang in northern France, which they suspect of ties with Islamist radicals. He escaped a raid on the gang in 1996 that left some members dead, though French authorities say they don’t have enough evidence to charge the group with links to terrorists.

Dumont headed to Bosnia-Herzegovina to fight alongside fellow Muslims and was arrested and convicted of killing a Bosnian police officer during a robbery and sentenced to 20 years in prison. He escaped in 1999 and vanished. He was convicted in absentia and sentenced to life in prison by a French court in 2001.

According to Japanese press accounts, Dumont used a fake French passport to enter Japan in July 2002 and worked as a car salesman in the northern city of Niigata. He reportedly made several trips to Europe and Asia before leaving Japan the last time for Malaysia in September 2003.

Dumont is believed to have provided money and equipment to Islamic radicals, including al Qaeda, and may have been in Japan to set up a terror cell, press reports said, citing investigative sources. Kyodo news service reported Friday that phone records show he continued to make phone calls to acquaintances in Japan after leaving.

Many in Japan are shocked that a man with such a history could slip through controls. He was reportedly listed on Interpol’s Web site. Ahmed Ressam, the Algerian convicted in the United States of planning to bomb the Los Angeles airport during millennium celebrations, has been linked to the Roubaix gang.

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