Islamic State operatives fleeing to Europe and the US on fake passports
Fake papers have become a “booming industry”. A network run by an Uzbek is using an encrypted Telegram channel to recruit customers. Forged passports can cost up to US$ 15,000 and are increasingly hard to detect. Istanbul International Airport is the take off point.
Istanbul (AsiaNews) – Many members of the Islamic State (IS) group and its affiliates have been able to flee the battlegrounds of Syria and Iraq thanks to a network run by an Uzbek national in Turkey that specialises in making fake passports.
Their destination is the West, especially Europe and the United States, where they can build a new life undercover thanks to forged documents, an investigation by British newspaper The Guardian has found.
Fake passports have become a “booming online industry” that uses increasingly accurate official visas and travel stamps that are hard to spot even by the most attentive observer.
The investigation uncovered a network that is run by an Uzbek out of Turkey. On at least 10 occasions he was able to supply fake passports to people linked to the Islamic State, allowing them to travel to the United Kingdom, the European Union, the United States and Canada.
European countries remain the most popular destinations, but in at least two cases trips that began in Istanbul ended in Mexico thanks to two fake Russian passports. From Mexico the people involved were able to cross into the United States illegally.
Other popular destinations include Niger and Mauritania, as well as Ukraine and Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
High-quality fake passports can cost up to US$ 15,000, The Guardian reports. Some “people who illegally crossed the Syrian border into Turkey” turned to the Uzbek with extremist links and “used his products to depart through Istanbul airport.”
Business is so brisk that the forger “opened a new channel on the encrypted messaging app Telegram with the official-sounding name ‘Istanbul Global Consulting’.”
The US Department of Homeland Security is aware of him. “There is a particular seller in Turkey who provides IS members with very high level [i.e., well forged] documents,” said a source inside the US agency.
Using interlocutors who speak Russian, Arabic and other languages, the Uzbek can cater to various IS-linked customers helping them to reach Europe. So far, European security agencies have failed to arrest them.
The passport forger told The Guardian that he does not “ask about which group someone is with” when they want a forged travel document. “I am willing to work with anyone,” he explained. “It is not my job to see who is bad and who is not. The security services should deal with it.”
Western security officials had already warned in 2015 that IS had managed to obtain significant equipment such as blank passport books and printers to make Syrian and Iraqi passports, which it used to disguise operatives among the more than one million people who fled to Europe during the peak of the refugee crisis.
Eventually, the terrorist group claimed responsibility for bloody attacks on the continent, including the attack against the Bataclan theatre in Paris in November 2015 and the bombing of the Manchester Arena in 2017.
Since then, border agencies have invested in technology and staff training to better identify fake passports.
In 2020, Tajikistan overhauled its consular staff in Istanbul and document system to eliminate the use of fake Tajik passports.