By Ali K Chishti
Imagine if al Qaeda and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) train a team of suicide bombers in FATA and send them to the US and all the European capitals to carry out a series of suicide bombings and 26/11-style fidai attacks?
A logical question countering the argument would be: who will provide the logistics and visas? Well, there is no need for one, now: thanks to dozens of fake and stolen European passports readily available in Pakistan.
A European passport not only insures you visa free entry to the EU countries but a visa on arrival for the US and Canada – countries which are at the forefront of the war against terrorism.
And there had been precedents. In 1993 a top al Qaeda member later turned FBI informant, Ali Muhammad helped al Qaeda’s number two, Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri enter the United States with a “fake passport” and tour San Francisco Bay area mosques to raise money to fund al Qaeda. Later, Sheikh Muhammad Atta of Al Qaeda’s Hamburg Cell and one of the hijackers who carried out 9/11: flied to Karachi, Pakistan some time between 1999-2001 on a fraudulent Belgian passport to eventually move to Kabul, and just before 9/11 two al Qaeda assassins posing as French journalists with stolen French passports exploded themselves and killed Ahmed Shah Masood – the leader of the Northern Alliance.
The Daily Times could now confirm that fake passports are widely available in Pakistan, which could be used by terrorists and money launderers to carry out terrorist activity flying out of country from Pakistan. A foreign diplomatic who was shown these passports claimed that, “they are the best, I have seen” adding that, “another Kasab or Faisal Shahzad from Pakistan result in diplomatic ties with Pakistan”. The counterfeits are cheap, realistic and available if you know the right people. We only got to know about the availability of such passports via someone who has recently applied for political asylum from Pakistan in the UK (thanks to the lax asylum system of Britain which allows a foreign national to apply for political asylum on the port of entry). The hub of such counterfeit and stolen passports apparently is none other than Bangkok from where Eastern European and Pakistani gangs operate. During our investigation; we approached one of the agents named Mehmood in Karachi who assured us that he would provide us a European passport and would ensure that we go through the Pakistani immigration and take a flight to any European destination.
On enquiry Mehmood (the agent) assured that if you are caught in Europe there’s always a way to “apply for political asylum”. “Would this get me on board to the US?” “You can try – it has worked before…,” comes the reply.
These passports costing from Rs 1,50,000 to Rs 350,000 ($1,765-$4,117) are available in Pakistani markets but “there’s a difference” one of the agents told us. One is a “forged” one and another, a “stolen” one. A stolen EU passport costs somewhere around Rs 500,000 to 700,000 in Pakistan and is mainly used by human smugglers although there are precedents that such passports had been used by high-profile al Qaeda and Taliban operatives to conceal their identity and travel abroad.
There is another way an agent told us. “You can go to Dubai on a regular Pakistani passports and from there you can use these passports to go to any of the European cities.”
Upon enquiry with the Dubai authorities and with the Ministry of the Interior, Abu Dhabi, they confirmed such incidents occur and that, only recently, a Mossad hit-squad in Dubai used similar European passports. The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) whose primary responsibility is to put a cap on such forgery mission statement is, “to achieve excellence in FIA by promoting culture of merit, providing continuous professional training, ensuring effective internal accountability, encouraging use of technology and having a meaningful mechanism”.
As it turn out from our investigation that, not a single such case had been detected at any of the major airports recently although, the FIA is aware of such passports. When asked as to the detection mechanism used by Immigration authorities and law enforcement authorities at ports? The answer we get is, “from experience and human intelligence” – apparently, there is no database of stolen passports, no Interpol records nor any coordination from foreign embassies and vice versa whatsoever. A security analyst who had been on the top slot at the FIA confirmed, “that there are black sheep around” but, “with Rehman Malik as the interior minister, serious funds had come to FIA and the level of professionalism has increased”.
During the course of investigations, Daily Times could confirm that, these passports do go through to the scanners and machines without a “red-flag” being raised at least two airports in Pakistan: Quaid-e-Azam International Airport in Karachi and Benazir Bhutto International Airport in Islamabad, while Alama Iqbal Airport turned out to be easiest where officials would take bribes to get people on board.
Remember, as per Civil Aviation and country laws which varies if an illegal passenger boards an airplane and is caught, the airline in our case, the PIA, is fined hundreds of thousands of dollars. On contacting PIA – an official from PIA confirmed that, due to illegal passengers only last year – PIA had been fined over one hundred thousand dollars.
The British Home Office and Border Controls gave out an official statement on our story. “Everyone entering and leaving the UK is required to produce a valid document, establishing their identity, nationality and citizenship.” All documents are checked against the UK and Interpol watch lists and a Border Force officer will also undertake checks to establish that the document is valid and belongs to the rightful holder” while, “As well as electronic checks, the UK Border Agency has specially trained forgery officers, whose role is to check documents and provide advice to colleagues.”
In response to our claim that stolen and forged UK passports can be bought – An Identity and Passport Service spokesperson said: “We remain confident that through its combination of physical and electronic security features the British passport remains a highly secure document, meeting rigorous international standards. “The Identity and Passport Service utilise encryption technology that ensures the encoded data on the chip contained within the British passport cannot be changed or modified. If an attempt is made to alter the data in the passport, through its combination of physical and electronic security features, this will be picked up at Border Control.
“Any passport which has been reported as lost of stolen is cancelled by IPS and rendered invalid for travel.” The good officer, Mr Carlos Vázquez, Counsellor of Interior, Embassy of Spain, Islamabad, when contacted gave out a statement that, “investigations are currently on”. The whole point of this story is not to undermine Pakistan’s security or enforcement forces as the fake passports are widely available from the United Kingdom to Spain to the US, but to blow a whistle and point out that such documents could be used by none other than the TTP or any other terrorist organisation to carry out terrorist activity inside the United States or any European country, the last thing we want is another, Ajmal Kasab or Shehzad Tanweer.