Official - Suspect was detained for alien smuggling

Monday, October 28, 2002

MIAMI -- John Allen Muhammad, the U.S. Army veteran charged with murder in the Washington, D.C.-area sniper slayings, was detained for hours at Miami International Airport in April 2001 because immigration inspectors suspected he was trying to smuggle two undocumented Jamaican women into the country, a U.S. government official said Saturday.

Muhammad was fleeing authorities in Antigua where police suspected he might be involved in human smuggling and making fraudulent documents.

The April 14, 2001, episode at MIA took place when inspectors stopped Muhammad, who they thought was using false documents and attempting to help his traveling companions -- two Jamaican women -- enter the country, also with fake documents.

Muhammad and the women were detained while U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service investigators checked their stories. INS officials eventually concluded that Muhammad was a U.S. citizen. He was cleared to enter the country; the women were deported.

"We were satisfied at the time of Muhammad's return to the country in April 2001 that he was a U.S. citizen," said John Shewairy, the INS chief of staff in the Miami district office. "Subsequently, INS investigators in Louisiana have seen a birth certificate for him and all indications are that he is a U.S. citizen."

Muhammad was born John Allen Williams in Louisiana 41 years ago.

Not enough evidence

Though Muhammad was allowed to leave, the U.S. official said, INS investigators wanted to pursue a case of alien smuggling or document fraud against him and referred the issue to the U.S. Attorney's Office. However, no charges were filed because immigration officials and prosecutors concluded there was not enough evidence, the official said.

Jacqueline Becerra, a spokeswoman for Miami U.S. Attorney Marcos Daniel Jimenez, said her office has no record of a referral on the case. "We have no information in our office to suggest that in April of 2001 we were either referred the matter or that we declined such a matter," Becerra said.

The U.S. official said he was "baffled" by the statement and said he could not explain why the U.S. Attorney's Office would not have a record of the referral.

Muhammad's brief stop in Miami last year came as he made his way back from Antigua where he apparently had met John Lee Malvo, the 17-year-old Jamaican also charged in the sniper attacks. Malvo followed Muhammad into the United States about two months after the MIA incident, arriving with his mother aboard a cargo ship that carried several undocumented immigrants. An immigration agency report filed months later suggested that Malvo and his mother stepped ashore somewhere south of Miami -- apparently undetected by immigration authorities.

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