Jewish World Review July 10, 2002 / 1 Menachem-Av, 5762

Eli J. Lake

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71 Arabs received fake visas prior to 9-11 | (UPI) U.S. authorities are hot on the trail of 29 individuals who entered the United States illegally on fraudulent visas issued through the U.S. Embassy in Doha, Qatar, United Press International has learned.

As part of "Operation Eagle Strike," the FBI has already arrested 31 of 71 individuals who purchased fraudulent visas through the Doha Embassy prior to Sept. 11, according to U.S. officials.

"We are currently involved in a nationwide search to apprehend these individuals," one U.S. official who spoke on anonymity told UPI Tuesday. This source added the team that includes representatives from the FBI, the State Department's Diplomatic Security and the Immigration and Naturalization Services, is looking for 29 people who purchased the visas still believed to be residing in the United States.

The operation believes six of the individuals have already left the United States while another five are spouses or dependents of the 31 arrested people.

These 31 individuals include Ramsi al-Shannaq, a Jordanian national arrested in Baltimore last year and believed to have been a roommate of Hani Hanjour and Nawaq Al-Hazmi, two of the suspected hijackers of American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon. On July 2, he was charged by the Justice Department for obtaining a fraudulent visa and could face up to 10 years in jail. U.S. authorities also arrested Majed Ghazi Yusef Sarhan last week in Troy, Michigan as part of the operation.

But U.S. authorities are quick to point out that "It's premature to say this is part of a terrorist operation or a sleeper cell," A U.S. official told UPI. "We are not aware of a connection between the...individuals who purchased these visas."

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JWR contributor Eli J. Lake is State Department Correspondent for UPI. Comment by clicking here.

© 2002, UPI