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Sunday, August 01, 2004

Key ways terrorists abuse passports

August 1, 2004
Below are the key ways the Sept. 11 commission says al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations are using and abusing passports:

• STOLEN: Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups long have relied on stolen passports, expertly doctoring them to substitute photos. Experts say they benefit from a thriving, shadowy network of document brokers stretching from Eastern Europe to South Africa and Southeast Asia.

• CLEANSED: By adding or removing visa cachets and entry and exit stamps, terrorists can create false travel trails to throw off authorities and delete evidence of travel to suspicious destinations such as Afghanistan. Mohammed Atta, one of the ringleaders and suicide hijackers of the Sept. 11 attacks, was said to have achieved significant expertise in altering passports.

• RECYCLED: Al-Qaeda and other groups are known to make the most of precious passports. In Afghanistan, al-Qaeda leaders required operatives to turn in their passports before sensitive operations or front-line fighting so the documents could be “recycled” for use by others in case the original holders were killed.

• RENEWED: In a frequently used technique, a passport filled with suspicious visas and stamps is turned in, even if it’s still valid for another year, and replaced with a new passport. Officials say al-Qaeda and others often would then visit popular tourist destinations, or add bogus stamps from such places, to enhance the illusion the passport holder was just a tourist.

* MULTIPLE: Terrorists are known to do all they can to acquire multiple passports so they have options. A Canadian or Belgian passport is likely to attract less attention than a Saudi or Pakistani passport. One passport can be used for trips to suspicious countries, leaving the others stamp-free and making potentially detectable alterations unnecessary. FR Reprint.

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