Jeweler - FBI's photo has his face but not his name
Friday, January 3, 2003
LAHORE, Pakistan -- A Pakistani jeweler who claims his photo was identified as one of five foreign-born men being sought by the FBI in the United States said Thursday he wants to clear his name.
An Associated Press photograph of Mohammed Asghar taken at his shop in Lahore was a near-perfect match for one included on an FBI list released Sunday under the name Mustafa Khan Owasi, down to the prominent mole on Asghar's left cheek under his eye.
The FBI is seeking the public's help in tracking down the five men, who it believes may have entered the United States illegally from Canada in a case that has heightened terrorism fears.
Asghar says he has never been to America and that he has traveled outside of Pakistan only once -- when he used false documents to try to get to Britain two months ago to find work. He was stopped in the United Arab Emirates and returned to Pakistan.
The photo he used in that attempt, which is identical to the one released by the FBI, may have been used by the forgers of his documents to create false papers for someone else, Asghar suggested.
"I just want to be cleared of this complicated situation," Asghar told AP before traveling to his small shop, which was surrounded by journalists Thursday. "I have no plans to lodge any formal complaint, but I want to state my case for the record."
President Bush said Thursday that officials were trying to check out Asghar's story.
"Kind of curious to know why he needs a false passport," Bush told reporters during a tour of his Crawford, Texas ranch Thursday. "We like things above board here in America.
"We need to follow up on forged passports and people trying to come into our country illegally," Bush said. "If we think there's a smuggling ring that's willing to smuggle people in that might harm America, we'll deal with it."
FBI spokeswoman Angela Bell said the names and photos of additional suspects may be released in the next day or so. She said the bureau was not able to confirm that Asghar was the man in the picture, but that the FBI planned to interview him in Pakistan.
Asghar, 30, said he welcomed this.
"Anybody who wants to ask me any questions, I am willing to cooperate," he said.
Asghar contacted reporters in Lahore to tell his story after seeing what he believed was his picture among the group of wanted men published locally and shown on television.
He said he and friends from nearby shops would talk to senior police officials in the eastern city of Lahore to ask for help clearing his name.
Asghar said he turned to the document forgers when he was unable to get a legal visa to Britain. It often is hard for first-time Pakistani travelers to obtain visas to the West, especially since the Sept. 11 attacks.
When he tried to travel to Britain two months ago, hoping to find a job, authorities in Dubai discovered the forged visa during a stopover, questioned him for nine hours and later deported him.
He insisted he had no link to any terrorist groups. Asghar refused to say where, or from whom, he bought the forged documents, fearing he might put himself in danger.
"Don't ask me about the agent. I don't want to make more problems for myself," he said.
On Sunday, the FBI released photos, names and birth dates of five men believed to be of Middle Eastern origin and sought the public's help finding them. The names released were Abid Noraiz Ali, Iftikhar Khozmai Ali, Mustafa Khan Owasi, Adil Pervez and Akbar Jamal.
Asghar said he does not know any of the people on the list.
"I was shocked when I saw my picture in the newspapers and on television channels with the name of Mustafa Khan Owasi," Asghar said.
With Asghar in the family jewelry shop on Thursday, his father, Haji Asmatullah, was sharply critical of the United States.
"I am hopeful God will help us," he said. "What credibility does the FBI, the U.S. government and the U.S. media have, running pictures without any verification?"
U.S. officials cautioned they have no specific evidence the men are involved in a terrorist plot, but said the men may have connections to a fake identification and smuggling ring involving some people with terrorist connections.
Several of the men have names or passports from countries with large terrorist presences. Pakistan, a U.S. ally in the war against terrorism, also is home to Islamic militants, and remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaida terror network are believed to be using western Pakistan as a base for attacks in neighboring Afghanistan.