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Profile: Mohammed Asghar
Mohammed Asghar was a participant or observer in the following events:
Mohammed Asghar [Source: CBC]A member of a document-forging and smuggling ring is arrested in Canada in late October 2002. The suspect, Michael Hamdani, tells authorities about a cell of 19 terrorists seeking false passports from a Pakistani smuggling ring in order to gain entry to the US, with five successfully infiltrating the country via Canada on Christmas Eve. [ABC News, 1/6/2003] He tells the FBI that he had been offered a large sum of money to assist with the smuggling of the five men into the US. He admits that he was part of the smuggling and counterfeit document ring; officials also believe that Hamdani has links to terrorist groups. [Washington Post, 1/3/2003] As a result, on December 27, 2002, the FBI issues an all-points bulletin that launches a massive effort by law enforcement officials who fear terrorist attacks over the holiday period. The bulletin is approved by President Bush, who says publicly, “We need to know why they have been smuggled into the country and what they’re doing in the country.” The FBI posts pictures of five of the men on its website, warning that the provided names and ages could be fictitious. They also raid six locations in Brooklyn and Queens. These pictures lead to numerous calls and sightings of the men from around the country. [ABC News, 1/6/2003] During the course of the investigation, an unsubstantiated report surfaces; the FBI learns from a Middle East source that terrorists are planning eight diversionary explosions in New York harbor on New Year’s Eve, to be followed by one large-scale genuine attack. The target is identified as the US Secret Service office in Manhattan. The New York Police Department alerts the US Coast Guard, which closes the harbor to pleasure craft and scrambles a 100-person Maritime Safety and Security Team. This team patrols the harbor with boats mounted with heavy machine guns and carrying tactical officers armed with automatic weapons. No other evidence ever emerges to support the FBI’s source. [Time, 1/5/2003] The man pictured as Mustafa Khan Owasi in one of the FBI photos is found a few days later in Pakistan. [ABC News, 1/6/2003] He says he had once tried to get a false visa in order to travel to Britain, but had been caught in the United Arab Emirates and returned to his home in Lahore, Pakistan. His real name is Mohammed Asghar and he works as a jeweler. He says he suspects the forgers that he provided his information to in order to receive the false visa may have used his identity to create papers for someone else. Investigators begin to doubt the veracity of Hamdani’s claims. [CBC News, 1/2/2003] US experts also find that the polygraph exam of Hamdani administered by Canadian authorities was seriously flawed. The assumption that this polygraph exam was accurate was one of the main motives in issuing the alert. Officials also fail to find any link between Hamdani and al-Qaeda, or any other radical militant organization. No links are discovered between the identities in the passports and extremist groups. [ABC News, 1/6/2003] The FBI realizes that the infiltration story had been fabricated by Hamdani and retracts the terror alert on New Year’s Day. [Time, 1/5/2003] The retraction of the terror alert leads to criticism of the FBI. Michael Greenberger, a former Justice Department official who heads the University of Maryland’s Center for Health and Homeland Security, says, “There is going to be a sort of ‘crying wolf’ scenario… When they put these out, there should be a more thorough explanation to the American public about what they’re doing.” The FBI defends its handling of the situation, saying that it reacted appropriately to the possibility of a real threat and noting that some of Hamdani’s information on the smuggling ring was accurate and led to ten (non-terrorism related) arrests. [Washington Post, 1/8/2003] Hamdani was already facing fraud charges in Canada after the raid that led to his arrest discovered fake passports, Pakistani driving licenses, immigration documents, and counterfeit traveler’s checks. He also had outstanding fraud warrants from the FBI in New York and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The FBI believes that Hamdani fabricated the story to avoid extradition to Canada. [ABC News, 1/6/2003] One investigator says, “You wouldn’t trust him as far as you could throw him.” [Time, 1/5/2003]
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