Brazil­ian pleads guilty to smug­gling ter­ror-linked aliens

Sneaked in dozens of peo­ple

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY STEPHEN DINAN

Fed­eral au­thor­i­ties wran­gled a guilty plea Wed­nes­day from a Brazil­ian man who ran one of the Western Hemi­sphere’s more fla­grant alien smug­gling op­er­a­tions, sneak­ing dozens of il­le­gal im­mi­grants from ter­ror­ism-con­nected coun­tries into the U.S. from 2014 to 2016.

Sharafat Ali Khan spe­cial­ized in smug­gling il­le­gal im­mi­grants from Afghanistan, Pak­istan and Bangladesh over to the West, where they would be staged in Brazil be­fore be­ing sent north to try to pen­e­trate the U.S.

One of the men Khan helped smug­gle into the coun­try was an Afghan who au­thor­i­ties said was in­volved in a plot to con­duct an at­tack in the U.S. or Canada and had fam­ily ties to mem­bers of the Tal­iban.

Khan ap­peared in fed­eral court in Washington on Wed­nes­day and agreed to plead guilty to a smug­gling con­spir­acy charge. He will be sen­tenced this sum­mer and could get up to 46 months in prison, though a lower sen­tence is likely.

Khan also agreed to ac­cept de­por­ta­tion af­ter he serves his time — though not be­fore mak­ing a plea to stay in the U.S.

“I want to stay here. I am a poor per­son. I would like to stay here if pos­si­ble. I would like to ap­ply for asy­lum,” he said, speak­ing through a trans­la­tor.

“That’s not part of the agree­ment,” U.S. District Judge Reg­gie B. Wal­ton replied, say­ing Khan had signed pa­per­work promis­ing to as­sist in his own de­por­ta­tion

once his sen­tence is com­pleted.

“You’re agree­ing to go back to your coun­try,” Judge Wal­ton told him.

“Yes, sir,” Khan said.

The case is part of a stepped-up ef­fort by U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment to shut down some of the smug­gling rings that shep­herd tens of thou­sands of peo­ple up through Latin Amer­ica and to the doorstep of the U.S.

But the Khan network stood out be­cause it fo­cused on link­ing would-be mi­grants in the Mid­dle East with smug­glers in the Western Hemi­sphere, giv­ing po­ten­tial ter­ror­ists a path into the U.S.

The Washington Times first re­ported on the smug­gling network last year but was asked by law en­force­ment of­fi­cials to with­hold Khan’s name to pre­serve the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The Times is still not pub­lish­ing the names of Khan’s clients or his as­so­ciates in the smug­gling op­er­a­tion.

Amer­i­can of­fi­cials sniffed out the network by in­ter­ro­gat­ing mi­grants nabbed at the U.S. bor­der and con­sid­ered the breakup of Khan’s op­er­a­tion an early suc­cess.

But the cases also iden­ti­fied wor­ry­ing prob­lems. When Bor­der Pa­trol agents nabbed the Afghan man with ter­ror­ist ties and ran his name through the Ter­ror­ist Screen­ing Data­base, he didn’t show up as a dan­ger. But doc­u­ments re­viewed by The Times said he was listed in the FBI’s Ter­ror­ist Iden­ti­ties Data­mart En­vi­ron­ment data­base as hav­ing sus­pect re­la­tions.

Net­works ca­pa­ble of smug­gling po­ten­tial ter­ror­ists have long been a con­cern, but the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion tamped down those wor­ries by ar­gu­ing that the south­west­ern bor­der wasn’t a likely route for op­er­a­tives.

How­ever, ev­i­dence to the con­trary has mounted over the past cou­ple of years, in­clud­ing a smug­gling ring that sneaked four Turk­ish men with ties to a U.S.-des­ig­nated ter­ror­ist group into the U.S. in 2014. They paid $8,000 apiece to be smug­gled from Is­tan­bul through Paris to Mex­ico City, where they were stashed in safe houses be­fore be­ing smug­gled to the bor­der.

Rep. Dun­can Hunter, a Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can who learned about the Khan network last year and be­gan prod­ding the Home­land Se­cu­rity De­part­ment for in­for­ma­tion, said it showed the south­west bor­der was able to be pen­e­trated by peo­ple from coun­tries the U.S. fears spawn ter­ror­ism.

Agents ob­tained an ar­rest war­rant against Khan on June 3, af­ter Brazil­ian au­thor­i­ties ex­e­cuted a search war­rant on him to help the U.S. case. Khan, a cit­i­zen of Pak­istan, was liv­ing as a le­gal im­mi­grant in Brazil.

The Brazil­ian Em­bassy didn’t re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment about its role in the case.

Khan charged up to $15,000 to smug­gle some­one into the U.S.

He would get mi­grants from Pak­istan to Dubai and then to Brazil, where they would stage their jour­ney north. They would travel through Peru, Ecuador, Colom­bia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Sal­vador, Gu­atemala and Mex­ico be­fore be­ing reach­ing the U.S. bor­der. The jour­ney could take up to nine months and in­volved trekking for days through jun­gles in Colom­bia and Panama, on foot, with lit­tle wa­ter.

The U.S. was able to track the route some of them took from Brazil north­ward be­cause lo­cal im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties of­ten en­coun­tered them along the way.

Like other net­works, Khan re­lied on lo­cal smug­glers to re­cruit clients in his tar­get coun­tries and ship them to Brazil. He then used other smug­glers in the Amer­i­cas to get the clients from Brazil to the U.S. and stashed them in safe houses along the way.

Khan, with the alias “Dr. Nakib,” used the What­sApp smart­phone ap­pli­ca­tion to keep in con­tact with his cus­tomers while they were en route. But he told them to delete the con­ver­sa­tions when they were caught at the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der.

In some of the cases, Khan counted on lax U.S. en­force­ment to en­sure his clients could gain a foothold. He in­structed them to show up at a port of en­try and turn them­selves over to bor­der agents to make claims of asy­lum.

Other clients would be smug­gled across the bor­der but nabbed by Bor­der Pa­trol agents. They also would claim asy­lum.

Fed­eral au­thor­i­ties said they have de­ter­mined that Khan smug­gled at least 80 peo­ple from May 2014 to June 2016.

At rates rang­ing from $3,000 to $15,000 per per­son, that would mean he col­lected $240,000 to $1.2 mil­lion over that 26-month pe­riod.

It’s un­clear what hap­pened to the money he made. Jus­tice De­part­ment at­tor­neys said he had funds stashed in for­eign bank ac­counts, though they didn’t dis­close the amount and said the money is prob­a­bly be­yond the reach of U.S. for­fei­ture laws.

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