Lax security, loose borders let terrorists move freely

Friday, June 14, 2002

ADAMOV REFUGEE CAMP, Slovakia -- Authorities who raided this weedy jumble of refugee dormitories are haunted by what they didn't find: 30 shadowy men they fear may have been terrorists posing as asylum seekers.

The suspects vanished among the cornfields and oak forests that stretch to the Austrian border a few miles away. Now officials are trying to determine if terrorists are masquerading as refugees.

"We had information that members of al-Qaida and the Taliban were trying to infiltrate these refugee groups," Jaroslav Spisiak, one of Slovakia's top police commanders, told The Associated Press.

Acting on an Interpol report relayed by Bulgaria, where the 30 entered Europe, Slovak anti-terrorist commandos raided Adamov on March 12.

By the time the special forces burst into the camp, five days after the group's arrival, the suspects were gone. Germany's equivalent of the FBI, the Federal Criminal Office, said it was checking into whether some of them might have slipped into Germany.

Geneva factor

Security is lax at refugee processing centers like Adamov because the Geneva Convention forbids governments from treating asylum seekers like criminals. As a result, there's little to deter a terrorist: no guards with machine guns; no surveillance cameras; no high walls or razor wire.

Neither Spisiak nor Interpol would elaborate on why they thought the 30 could be terrorists. Officials said they had conflicting accounts on whether the men were Afghans, or Arabs, but they were traveling in a group and had paid about $2,000 each to gain transit from Bulgaria to Slovakia -- more than twice the going rate.

Interpol would not confirm a report in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, citing European intelligence, that the men allegedly intended to rent apartments in high-rise buildings in Germany and elsewhere and place bombs inside.

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