Al-Qaeda Trots Europe on "SA Identity"

Views on BG | July 29, 2004, Thursday // 00:00

Al-Qaeda terrorists are traveling through Europe equipped with South African passports, local authorities alarmed on Thursday.

Officials believed the forgery network came from crime syndicates operating inside the government agency that issues the documents.

The news broke after a top police official said "boxes and boxes" of the identity documents were discovered in London.

Barry Gilder, director general of the Home Affairs Department, said he came across a number of instances in which South African passports were found in the hands of al-Qaeda suspects or associates in Europe. It happened in his current capacity and earlier when he was deputy director in the National Intelligence Agency.

South African officials say crime syndicates selling the country's identity documents and passports for as little as USD 77 have operated inside Home Affairs for years.

They sell mostly to economic migrants, who find it easier to enter Europe or the United States on a South African passport than ones from their own countries. But terrorists now appear to be tapping into these networks, Gilder acknowledged.

In one instance, a Tunisian Al Qaeda suspect, Ihsan Garnaoui, told German investigators he had a number of South African passports, sources close to the case told the Associated Press. It is not clear how he got them.

Garnaoui was traveling on a forged Portuguese passport when he arrived in Germany in January 2003, on a journey via South Africa and Belgium. He is accused of planning bombings on American and Jewish targets to coincide with the start of the US-led war on Iraq.

The fact that these were genuine South African passports, not forgeries, was of particular concern, Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said.

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