- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2007

LIMA, Peru — Ten Iraqi citizens with forged passports and documents are in a Peruvian prison after an apparent bid to enter the United States on a flight to Los Angeles, officials here say.

An 11th Iraqi man thought to be part of the group is at large.

One of the men arrested is thought to have links to al Qaeda, said Peruvian National Police Col. Roberto Lujan, who is leading the investigation.

The capture of the 10 in this Andean nation raises the specter of a smuggling ring that could touch neighboring Ecuador.

The plot unfolded on June 21, when three Iraqis entered Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima attempting to board a flight to Los Angeles.

Airline officials alerted police after two of the men holding Dutch passports could not speak Dutch. Citizens of the Netherlands are not required to hold a visa to enter the United States.

Police detained the suspects and learned that another group of Iraqis had been en route to the airport.

“The others were slowed by traffic on their way to the airport,” Col. Lujan said. “When they arrived, they apparently saw what was happening and left.”

None of the three Iraqis arrested in the airport spoke Spanish. One gave police the name of a 40-year-old Spanish-speaking Iraqi citizen named Rafid Joboo Pati, the group”s reputed leader.

Police said the Iraqis entered Peru on May 11 and passed through the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and Ecuador without authorities noticing that their documents were fake.

Peruvian intelligence units spent several days watching Mr. Pati, who was residing in the upscale Lima neighborhood Miraflores, Col. Lujan said. Others thought to be part of the smuggling ring also were watched.

On the night of July 17, police raided three apartments where the suspects were living and arrested seven persons, including Mr. Pati.

Mr. Pati confirmed that all of the suspects were Iraqis. Two had Dutch passports, two carried Ecuadoran identification and two held Iraqi passports, police said. Mr. Pati carried an Ecuadoran passport, Col. Lujan said.

Authorities found no weapons but seized a laptop computer and cell phones that they turned over to Interpol in France.

An 11th person was not in the apartment at the time of the raid and is at large, officials said.

Those detained are brothers Dane-K-Mansour, 26, and Nail Mansour, 29, Mushtaq-y-Hana, 24, Loayi-s-Elda, 29, Jaboo Pati-Rafid, 40, Adelmika Homow, 61, Salema Hazim, 53, Ala Tomina, 30, Istab Hekmat, 28, and Rafid Joboo Pati, 40.

“The Iraqis refused to give the name of the missing individual,” Col. Lujan said.

Interpol advised Peruvian police that two of the Dutch passports were reported stolen last year.

“We have been told by Interpol sources in Lima that fingerprints of one of the men carrying a Dutch passport have been sent to Baghdad and is thought to have links to al Qaeda,” Col. Lujan said, adding that he could not identify the man for security reasons.

All are detained at Lima”s Lurigancho prison. They are prohibited from giving interviews to the press.

The suspects were not employed during their stay in the high-end neighborhood, authorities said.

“Someone was funding them but we do not know who yet,” Col. Lujan said, adding that his department is working on the investigation with U.S. officials and Interpol.

“We are very satisfied with how the Peruvian authorities are handling the matter,” said Sam Wunder, a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Lima. “We are very interested in finding out more about these people.”

U.S. officials in Washington would not comment on the investigation because it is continuing.

Col. Lujan rejected a theory that the men could be Chaldean Christians, a group said to frequently attempt entry to the United States on claims of religious persecution in Iraq.

“These people were not part of a group,” he said. “Besides the brothers, they did not even know each other.”

One man was arrested while clutching a flag of unknown origin. A photo shows the flag to have a white background with four squiggly blue and red lines converging onto a four-pointed light blue symbol that is similar to those found on Chaldean flags.

Officials said they do not know whether other Iraqi smuggling rings have operated in the country. One police official who declined to be identified said he doubted the ring was still operating in Peru.

“They might be in Ecuador because they know we are looking for them here,” Col. Lujan said.

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