FBI Still Hunting Five Young Men Smuggled Into U.S.

As of January 2, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was still looking for five mysterious men who the bureau said had entered the United States illegally on or around Christmas Eve.

"Although the FBI has no specific information that they are connected to any potential terrorist activities," the bureau said in December 29 statement, "based upon information developed in the course of ongoing investigations, the FBI would like to locate and question these persons."

An FBI spokesman told HUMAN EVENTS on January 2 that authorities believe that the men did not enter the country at a normal international checkpoint. "It is believed they utilized a vehicle to enter the country undetected," said Special Agent John Iannarelli. He refused to confirm reports that Canadian authorities had alerted U.S. authorities that the men had entered the United States from Canadian territory. (The New York Daily News reported last week that "law enforcement sources" said the men "may have slipped into the U.S. through a Mohawk Indian reservation that straddles the Canadian border.")

Iannarelli also said that widespread reports that the men are Pakistanis may not be true. "We don’t know where they are from," he said. "We are not even sure of their country of origin."

All the men, however, have or are using Middle Eastern names. The FBI released photos of the men and gave their names and dates of birth: Abid Noraiz Ali, born Aug. 15, 1977; Iftikhar Khozmai Ali, born Sep. 20, 1981; Mustafa Khan Owasi, born Dec. 27, 1983; Adil Pervez, born Dec. 27, 1983; and Akbar Jamal, born Nov. 1, 1974. But the "names and dates of birth may be fictitious," said the FBI.

President Bush himself weighed in on the issue on New Year’s Eve when he was asked about the manhunt. "I have authorized the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the FBI, to put out an all-points bulletin for five individuals who we believe have been smuggled into the country," Bush said. "We need to know why they have been smuggled into the country, what they’re doing in the country. And if anybody has any information about the five, I would hope they would contact their local authorities."

"We don’t have any idea of what their intentions may be," Bush said, "but we are mindful that there are still some out there who would try to harm America and harm Americans. And so, therefore, we take every threat seriously and every piece of evidence seriously."

Canada’s CTV reported last week that an arrested smuggler told Canadian police he was paid to help 19 people, including the five sought by the FBI, enter the United States illegally from Pakistan through Britain and then Canada. Iannarelli said that the FBI would not confirm details of the investigation. The bureau would not even say if there was a document-forging ring involved. "We do not reveal details of ongoing investigations," he said. Canada’s CBC-TV identified the smuggler as Michael John Hamdani.

On December 31, Canada’s National Post reported that a woman said she saw Adil Pervez and Iftikhar Ali on December 10 in Vancouver. She said that Pervez took photos of a ferry and the ferry entrance "and a tourist would just not want photos of that for souvenirs."

Iannarelli said that the FBI was investigating reports that the photo of Owasi was actually that of a Pakistani jeweler, Mohammad Asghar, who had never been to the United States. Asghar told AP that smugglers may have used his photo after he tried to buy an illegal visa. "I have no links with any terrorist organization," said Asghar. Said Iannarelli, "We are in touch with authorities in Pakistan and he will be interviewed."

Though no one is suggesting that the move had any connection to the five men, New York State’s Office of Public Security advised New York law enforcement agencies of "possible attacks to occur at unspecified times on December 31, in the vicinity of New York Harbor," prompting the Coast Guard to close the harbor to all recreational boats during the New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square.