Man in terror database arrested

Pakistani citizen came up on list during traffic stop in Pikesville

Officials say he isn't a likely threat

N.Y. man faces charges of selling fake immigration documents

August 09, 2005|By Matthew Dolan, Anica Butler and Siobhan Gorman | Matthew Dolan, Anica Butler and Siobhan Gorman,SUN STAFF

A Pakistani citizen whose name surfaced in a terrorism-related database after he was picked up in a routine traffic stop in Baltimore County will face federal charges this morning of selling fake immigration documents, officials said.

Muhammad Asif Haider, 27, of New York City remained in federal custody yesterday awaiting his hearing in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

The arrest late Sunday night marked the second time in less than a week that federal authorities have detained suspects from the Baltimore region as part of their anti-terrorism efforts. Law enforcement officials said the two cases appear to be unrelated.

Haider was listed in the FBI's Violent Gang and Terrorist Organization file, according to law enforcement officials, but it was unclear why.

"We're not going to comment on the watch-list issue," said Heather Tasker, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District of New York.

But officials privately downplayed the significance of his arrest, saying that they didn't believe he posed a likely terrorist threat. The immigration fraud indictment issued in New York against Haider makes no mention of terrorism or terrorism-related activities.

Haider's arrest came Sunday at 10:43 p.m. when a Baltimore County police officer stopped a 1994 black Lincoln Town Car with Maryland plates. Police said the car had its lights off as it left a gas station on Reisterstown Road between Village Road and Interstate 695 in Pikesville.

Approaching the car, the officer asked the driver for identification. When the driver couldn't produce any, the officer sought identification from his two passengers, one in front and one in the rear, police said.

Using a computer in his patrol car, the officer checked the two men in the National Criminal Information Center and the state motor vehicle registry.

He received a "hit" on Haider, the back-seat passenger, said Sgt. Vickie Warehime, a county police spokeswoman.

The officer found that Haider was wanted on a federal warrant and was on the terrorist "watch list," Warehime said. All three were taken to the Woodlawn precinct. The driver, Talmur Khawaa, 19, of the 6700 block of Graceland Ave. in Baltimore, was given a warning for driving without his headlights on and a citation for failing to produce his license on demand, Warehime said.

Khawaa was released, along with the other passenger.

On Aug. 3, Haider was indicted by a federal grand jury, accused of committing immigration fraud between July 2002 and May 2003 with at least three other men in and around New York City.

According to the indictment, Haider, using the alias Asif Iqbal, first met with an undercover law enforcement agent in Queens, N.Y., in December 2002. At that meeting and in subsequent meetings, he allegedly took a total of more than $6,000 as payment for providing false Social Security numbers and fake green cards.

It is likely that Haider's immigration case will be transferred back to New York after today's hearing, prosecutors said. His attorney did not return a call for comment.

Jim Pettit, a spokesman for the Governor's Office of Homeland Security, which oversees the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center, cautioned against assuming Haider is also wanted in conjunction with a terrorism investigation.

The officer who stopped Haider notified the analysis center, which in turn checked with the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center, Pettit said. The screening center found a "hit" on the National Criminal Information Center Database and others.

Pettit said checking with the FBI center is "standard practice" for calls that come into the state center. He said police officers tend to call the state center, which was launched in 2003, when "something looks out of the ordinary."

Each name on the screening center's list carries a code to instruct the police officer on the street. This time, the instruction was to arrest Haider, Pettit said.

But the code also categorized what Haider was wanted for under "other offenses," Pettit said. "It means that it is not necessarily terrorism-related."

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the federal government has struggled with trying to develop terrorist watch lists.

The Terrorist Screening Center is a compilation of a dozen databases from such federal agencies as the FBI, the State Department and the Homeland Security Department. While the center's watch list includes those on the FBI's most-wanted terrorist list, it also contains names of people with no connection to international terrorism, such as illegal immigrants who have tried repeatedly to sneak into the country and those who may aspire to be the next Unabomber.

But the U.S. Justice Department's inspector general concluded in a report in June that the screening center, while evolving, has been hampered by inadequate technology, incomplete or incorrect files and conflicting information within individual files.

"The TSC could not ensure that the information in that database was complete and accurate," the report stated.

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