Friday, December 10, 2004

Bangladeshi’s arrest prompts concern over border security

Ties: Man caught with member of gang with alleged terrorist links

The Brownsville Herald

December 10, 2004 — Last week’s arrest of a Bangladeshi immigrant trying to illegally enter the country has federal authorities concerned over the vulnerability of the U.S.-Mexico border to infiltration by terrorists.

Federal court records show Fakhrul Islam, age unknown, was arrested Dec. 4 with 13 other undocumented immigrants as they tried to pass through a wooded area east of Brownsville.

The records said a man later identified by Border Patrol agents as a member of the Mara Salvatruchas gang was traveling in the same group as Islam.

The Central American gang has alleged links to al-Qaida.

“This is alarming,” said U.S. Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz, D-Texas.

In a telephone interview Tuesday, Ortiz said the Central American gang members and terrorists are suspected of trying to blend in with Mexican or other immigrants trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We knew this was happening underground, but now it’s come to the surface,” he said.

Although Bangladesh is not listed as a nation that supports terrorism, Ortiz said the predominantly Muslim southern Asian nation is a “country of concern” for U.S. intelligence officials.

“It is a very poor country where many people earn as little as 65 cents a day,” Ortiz said. “The question I’m asking (officials) is, ‘How was he able to finance his way here?’”

Border Patrol officials did not return calls for comment Thursday, but a criminal complaint filed by an agent in federal court Tuesday said Islam admitted to wading across the Rio Grande.

He was charged with illegal entry into the country.

Court records show U.S. Magistrate Judge John William Black on Tuesday dismissed the illegal entry charge against Islam pending an FBI investigation.

Rosalie Savage with the FBI’s McAllen office said her agency does not disclose any information obtained through such interviews.

Although she could neither confirm nor deny an interview with Islam, she said FBI agents routinely interview certain people who have entered the country illegally from Mexico.

“Our agents try to learn who smuggled them, how much they paid, what route they took and if they know anybody on the FBI’s Most Wanted List,” she said.

Savage said agents do not treat immigration detainees any differently because of their nationality.

“We ask them all the same questions,” she said.

Islam was not charged with any other offenses and will remain in federal custody until he is deported and returned to Bangladesh, said Nancy Herrera, spokeswoman with the Houston office of the U.S. attorney’s Southern District of Texas.

Officials with the Bangladesh Embassy in Washington, D.C., could not be reached for comment by press time Thursday.

Ortiz said the U.S. intelligence bill that Congress passed this week would authorize the Border Patrol to double the number of agents over the next five years. President Bush still must sign the bill.

“The Border Patrol does a good job with (what) they have,” Ortiz said. “We need to give them the tools and the manpower they need.”

Valley Movement for Human Rights director Nathan Selzer criticized the link between Mara Salvatruchas and al-Qaida and said it has not been verified by a credible intelligence agency.

“This is fear mongering,” Selzer said. “What they’ve ignored is the need for the reform of immigration policy to make it to where a Bangladeshi or others wouldn’t have to cross with criminals or others.”

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