Monday, May 5, 2008

Peru: Iraqi – US Smuggling Ring Discovered.

By Nicole M. Ferrand*
This past July, a criminal ring attempting to smuggle Iraqis into the United States was discovered in Peru. The drama began on July 21st when three Iraqi siblings, two men and one woman, arrived at Jorge Chávez International airport in Lima and bought three tickets to travel to Los Angeles, California. They were planning to board a LAN Chile flight carrying German passports. Their names: Nader Yusef-Adib, (21), Nasim Yusef-Adib, (23), and Lina Yusef-Adib (33).[1]

When they were passing through security, they presented boarding passes bound to Santiago, Chile instead. Apparently, what happened is that in the waiting room they switched their boarding passes to avoid the scrutiny that passengers go through when traveling to the U.S. Airport officials scanned the woman’s passport and discovered that it was fake. She requested to go to the restroom and that is when a female worker discovered Ms. Lina destroying the boarding passes and other documents and contacted the police. Using a translator, they said they had arrived in Lima from Brazil where they had traveled after leaving Iraq two days prior. “The suspects said they wanted to go to the United States to work because the situation in Iraq is very difficult. We have requested the help of the Directorate Against Terrorism (Dircote), they are working on the case,” were the statements of the Chief of the Directorate of Criminal Investigation.[2]

Peruvian officials contacted German authorities and found out that the passports had been stolen from three German nationals: Matthias Becker, Meike Barth and Diego Amson. Local authorities learned that another group of Iraqis had been en route to the airport. “The others were slowed by traffic on their way to the airport,” Coronel Roberto Luján said. “When they arrived, they apparently saw what was happening and left.” Peruvian police are checking for possible connections to international terrorism networks and the suspects are being charged for lying to immigration officials and using false documentation. US Intelligence officials were soon contacted and arrived in Lima to investigate the case.[3]

Not even a month after this incident, Peruvian intelligence units spent several days watching an individual by the name of Mr. Pati and others thought to be part of the smuggling ring. Early in the morning of July 17, 2007, police in Lima raided three luxurious apartments in the upper scale district of Miraflores. They found six Iraqis with fake Dutch passports. No weapons were found on the premises but authorities alerted the US embassy asking for help in the investigation. The names of the people involved are: Mushtaq Yhana (25), Loay Elda (29), Adelmika Homow (61), Salema Kalzeak (53) and the brothers Danik (26) and Nail Mansour (29).[4]
Col. Luján, the official in charge of the raid and the case, stated that the leader of the criminal ring that smuggles illegals into the United States is Iraqi citizen, Rafid Jaboo Pati (40). According to Mr. Luján, Mr. Pati had the responsibility for the Iraqis who had arrived in Lima from Ecuador, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic with the intention of smuggling them into the United States. The suspects stayed in lavish locations while other members of the ring falsified the Dutch documentation in order for them to travel to Miami, New York, San Francisco, New Orleans and other US’ cities.[5] Rafid Jaboo Pati was captured in Miraflores, Lima with an Ecuadorian passport and identity card from the same country. Pati confessed that the other six Iraqis had arrived in Lima 25 days earlier.[6]
The seven people are currently being held by Peruvian immigration officials, Lujan added. Police also seized a laptop, a cell phone and other false documents, including an Ecuadorian driver’s license and fake Dutch, Ecuadorian and Iraqi passports from one of the apartments. “We’ve sent their fingerprints to Interpol headquarters in France to find out if they are wanted by the international police,” said Col. Luján. He said the seven had been under police surveillance since they entered Peru illegally by land from Ecuador 25 days ago.[7]

“Peru has a growing problem,” a U.S. official said. “It has become a center for people trying to enter the United States illegally.” Peruvian police became suspicious when it was determined that none of the Iraqis spoke Dutch or German. For now they will be charged with falsifying documents.[8]

Mr. Luján has said that the three Iraqis caught in the airport and the seven others seized in Miraflores are part of the same group under the leadership of Rafid Jaboo Pati. An 11th person was not in the apartment at the time of the raid and is at large, officials said. “The Iraqis refused to give the name of the missing individual,” “We have been told by Interpol sources in Lima that fingerprints of one of the men carrying a Dutch passport have been sent to Baghdad and is thought to have links to al Qaeda,” Col. Luján said, adding that he could not identify the man for security reasons.[9]

Lujan rejected a theory that the men could be Chaldean Christians, a group said to frequently attempt to enter the United States on claims of religious persecution in Iraq. “These people were not part of that group,” he said. “Besides the brothers, they did not even know each other.” One man was arrested while clutching a flag of unknown origin.[10]
Telling Peruvian officials they were on their way to Chile and not the United States is what raised suspicion and led to their incarceration but there are many questions surrounding this bizarre incident. First, did the three that were caught in the airport buy tickets to both Chile and the United States which resulted in them having two different boarding passes? Secondly, this must have been a very well financed and orchestrated operation: where did they get the funding to travel to Brazil, then Peru and while there have cash for expenses? It is evident they had plenty of money to buy six tickets, three to Chile and three to the US. Then there are the added operating costs of having a contact and leader, Rafid Jaboo Pati, who made arrangements for their accommodations and prepared their false documents. Were they buying tickets to different destinations to obtain different boarding passes to mislead authorities and illegally enter the US? Maybe other Iraqis did this before successfully. Returning to the money issue, if they say they were en route to the US to find work because of the harsh conditions in their country of origin, where did they get the money to do all this?

Were the seven others caught in the luxurious apartments the ones that were to travel together with the three siblings and when they saw that something was wrong in the airport, decided to run away? Dutch and German citizens do not require visas to enter the United States, but if Peruvian authorities discovered the passports were fake, in the US they would have been surely caught. If those arrested were Iraqi Chaldean Christians who frequently try to enter the U.S., claiming they face persecution in Iraq and California is home to a sizable Chaldean community, why make false statements and destroy documentation at all? What were they trying to hide so desperately? They could have contacted the Chaldean community in the United States to get help.

Many Iraqis who try to get to the US have to find different routes to get to their destination. These individuals were caught in Peru but there must be other rings similar to this one operating in different countries. They may be trying to use countries that are U.S. friendly to avoid raising suspicions. Also, there is the issue of picking countries that are perceived as lax regarding security issues. It might be the case that some might be trying to find a better life, but that might not be true for everyone.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people try to come to this country seeking better opportunities. Some go through the regular process and get rejected and some have better luck; some cross the Mexican or Canadian borders illegally; but this case is bizarre because of its complexity and for the availability of monetary resources at hand.

Peru handled this case in a very professional manor; identifying the problem, immediately beginning an investigation and seeking international cooperation to arrest the suspects. However, it still is not known what the true intentions of the Iraqis were other than their desire to enter the U.S. Hopefully, through the cooperation of the Peruvian authorities, INTERPOL and the U.S., we will learn whether they were asylum seekers or terrorists. Stay tuned.

*Nicole M. Ferrand is a research analyst and editor of “The Americas Report” of the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center for Security Policy in Washington DC. ( She is a graduate of Columbia University in Economics and Political Science with a background in Law from Peruvian University, UNIFE and in Corporate Finance from Georgetown University.

[1] Detienen a iraquíes con pasaportes falsos en Perú. El Universal, Venezuela. June 22, 2007
[2] Ibid.
[3] The Washington Times – Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Descubren tráfico de iraquíes a EEUU. July 18, 2007. La Republica, Perú.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Detienen a iraquíes que pretendían viajar a Los Ángeles desde Lima. El Comercio, Perú. June 22, 2007.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Iraqis captured en route to U.S. The Washington Times. September 11, 2007.
[10] Detienen a iraquíes con pasaportes falsos en Perú. El Universal, Venezuela. June 22, 2007

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