August 30, 2005

Militants used sham marriages to get U.S. papers

By Alan Elsner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - At least 17 Arab men convicted or
linked to terrorism obtained U.S. citizenship or permanent
residency by marrying American women in the past 15 years,
according to a report on Tuesday that urged better enforcement
of immigration laws.

The report by Janice Kephart, a former counsel to the
commission that investigated the September 11, 2001, attacks on
the United States, said at least nine of the marriages were
sham, designed solely to allow the men to "embed themselves"
and operate freely in the United States.

One individual, Khalid Abu Al-Dahab, married three American
women in quick succession before he was finally able to acquire
legal permanent residency.

"During his 12 years in the United States, he provided
money and fraudulent travel documents to terrorists around the
globe. These activities linked him to numerous attacks,
including the 1998 East Africa bombings," Kephart said.

More than 200 people were killed in almost simultaneous
bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es
Salaam, Tanzania in August 1998.

The report said three other defendants involved in those
attacks also married U.S. citizens. Two acquired legal
permanent residency and the third became a citizen.

Several others connected to the Iranian-backed Hizbollah
organization entered the country on non-immigrant tourist visas
and paid U.S. citizens to marry them within days of their
arrival so they could stay indefinitely.

Steve Camarota, of the Center for Immigration Studies which
published Kephart's paper, said U.S. immigration officials were
overwhelmed by the number of people they had to deal with and
could not conduct proper security checks. The CIS advocates
cutting legal migration to the United States.

"You can't have this level of immigration and this level of
resources and still keep out the bad guys," he said.

Kephart's report, which looked at the immigration histories
of 94 individuals suspected or convicted of terrorism between
the early 1990s and 2004, also documented numerous other ways
in which they obtained legal status.

She said 59 committed immigration fraud before taking part
in terrorist activity. There were 11 instances of passport
fraud and 10 of visa fraud.

Others gained entry on religious worker visas, issued to
ministers or religious professionals. Kephart said there was
little vetting either of the religious institutions that
sponsored the visa applicants or the religious qualifications
of the applicants themselves.

For instance, Muhammad Khalil, imam of a mosque located in
a Brooklyn basement, sponsored more than 200 applicants for
religious visas for a fee of $5,000-$6,000 apiece. He also sold
Social Security cards for $2,300, drivers' licenses and
undergraduate degree certificates.

Khalil was eventually caught in a sting operation and
convicted of various fraud charges in 2004.