Pakistani says his identity was stolen
LAHORE, Pakistan — A Pakistani jeweler said Wednesday his picture is among those of five foreign-born men the FBI says may have entered the United States on falsified passports. He said he has never visited the United States.
An Associated Press photograph of Mohammed Asghar taken at his shop in Lahore yesterday was a near-perfect match for the one included on the FBI list under the name Mustafa Khan Owasi, down to the prominent mole on Asghar’s left cheek.
FBI spokeswoman Angela Bell said the bureau was not able to confirm that Asghar is the man in the picture. She said the FBI planned to interview him in Pakistan.
Asghar, 30, told AP that he was surprised to open a local newspaper and see his picture with another man’s name beneath it.
Asghar said his only attempt at traveling abroad was frustrated when police in the United Arab Emirates discovered he had a forged visa. He suggested that the document forgers he once patronized could have used his picture to create false travel documents for another man.
“I am a Pakistani and am living in my country, but American authorities have released my picture among those who are being traced by the FBI for entering America,” Asghar said. “I have no links with any terrorist organization.”
The only perceivable difference between the AP and FBI photos is that the man in the FBI photo is clean-shaven and shorter-haired. The FBI photo was presumably taken several months ago as part of Asghar’s effort to buy a false visa.
Asghar, a jeweler, acknowledged that two months ago he tried to travel to Britain on forged documents. But he said that immigration officials at the airport in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, detected the falsification, questioned him for nine hours, arrested him and deported him back to Pakistan.
Asked if the forgers were responsible for switching the photos, Asghar said, “I don’t know who misused my travel documents. I don’t know how my picture reached the hands of the FBI.” Asghar refused to say where, or from whom, he bought the forged documents.
Asghar said he has never been to the United States. “I went to Dubai two months ago on forged documents. My destination was England, where I wanted to find a job, but Dubai police caught me.”
On Sunday, the FBI released photos, names and birth dates of the five men believed to be of Middle Eastern origin and sought the public’s help tracking them down for questioning. The names of those five are Abid Noraiz Ali, Iftikhar Khozmai Ali, Mustafa Khan Owasi, Adil Pervez and Akbar Jamal.
Asghar said he doesn’t know any of the people on the list.
“I was shocked when I saw my picture in the newspapers and on television channels with the name of Mustafa Khan Owasi,” Asghar said.
FBI agents are expanding their dragnet for a growing list of foreign-born men they believe may have entered the United States illegally from Canada in a false ID case that has heightened terrorism fears around the New Year’s holiday.
Canadian police said yesterday they had prior knowledge of the five foreign-born men.
“We are cooperating with the FBI in this search for these individuals,” Royal Canadian Mounted Police Staff Sgt. Andre Guertin said by phone from the federal police force’s Ottawa headquarters. “Obviously, we knew about these individuals before this information became public.”
The Toronto Star reported Tuesday that a joint Canada-U.S. investigation of fake passports sparked the FBI investigation, and that the RCMP gave the Americans the men’s names and photos.
He refused to disclose any further details and questioned other reports, such as comments by U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a New York Democrat, that the five men entered New York state from Canada.
“If the FBI sought the assistance of police agencies worldwide to, first, learn the whereabouts of these men and, second, learn their real names and citizenship, it means they aren’t sure themselves,” Guertin said. “It’s all speculation.”
New York FBI spokesman Joe Valiquette said the agency has been checking out tips from people who thought they might have seen the five men.
“The Joint Terrorism Task Force has done a few interviews in the metro area, none of which have panned out,” said Valiquette. “There were interviews done in Brooklyn with regard to the five and that didn’t pan out either. There is no specific information that any of the five are in New York City.”
U.S. officials cautioned they have no specific evidence the men are involved in a terrorist plot, but said the men may have connections to a fake ID and smuggling ring that involves some people with terrorist connections.
Several of the men have names or passports from countries with large terrorist presences. Pakistan, while a U.S. ally in the war against terrorism, is also home to Islamic militants, and remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaida terror network are believed to be using the western part of Pakistan as a base for attacks in neighboring Afghanistan.