Thursday, June 02, 2005

Iranian is held as people-smuggler

By Michael Marizco

An Iranian man is accused of trying to smuggle three of his countrymen into Arizona through Nogales, Sonora, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.

Zeayadale Malhamdary, 39, a Mesa tailor, was arrested Thursday after a nine-month undercover operation by the Southern Arizona Joint Terrorism Task Force. He is being held on attempted-migrant- smuggling charges, said Sandy Raynor, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The FBI, which heads the terror task force, has no reason to believe this is any more than a smuggling case, said Deborah McCarley, spokeswoman for the bureau's Phoenix office.

According to the affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Phoenix:

Last September, Malhamdary told an FBI informant posing as a migrant smuggler that he had already sneaked in a group of 20 Iranians through Sonoita, Ariz. Wiretaps recorded Malhamdary asking the informant to help him obtain Mexican visas to be placed into Iranian passports so more Iranians could fly into Mexico City then slip through Arizona with a smuggler's help.

In a later phone call, he asked for a supply of Mexican visas because he already had one group turned away from a flight into Mexico after they were discovered with improper visas.

In March, Malhamdary flew back to Tehran, Iran, telling the FBI source he needed to gather the passports of three Iranians. He returned three weeks later with the passports and handed them over to the informant. The informant noticed several other passports in Malhamdary's possession that were not handed over.

At the same meeting, Malhamdary told the informant he previously had 60 more Iranians smuggled into the United States.

Two weeks ago, Malhamdary called the informant and told him that as soon as the three visas were created for the passports, he would bring $12,000 and eight more passports to be doctored, the affidavit stated.

On May 26, Malhamdary was arrested at his Mesa home. He told the agents he was trying to bring the Iranians into the United States so they could seek refugee status. Earlier, he told the FBI informant he'd successfully had his sister smuggled into the country.

Federal officials are treating the case as an attempted-smuggling investigation, McCarley said.

"Right now there's no information to suggest any of the individuals he was bringing in had any kind of terror plots," she said. "However, the border is one of our vulnerabilities. Anyone coming over the border illegally and using false identifications to do so - we don't know always what their intentions are."

In Arizona, very few of the illegal entrants the Border Patrol captures are from countries beyond the Western Hemisphere. The agency doesn't give a breakdown of people from countries not in this hemisphere because it uses that data to track what other countries people try to come in from, said Tucson Sector spokeswoman Andrea Zortman.

This year, 172 people have been captured since Oct. 1 who were not from Central or South America, she said. In all of the fiscal year prior, 484 others were apprehended in the Tucson Sector.

In a report released by Colorado Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo last year, 132 people from countries including Iran, Pakistan and Egypt were arrested at the U.S.-Mexican border.

In March, FBI Director Robert Mueller reported to Congress that people from countries with ties to al-Qaida had already crossed into the United States from Mexico, using Brazil as a conduit.

But the U.S. government has yet to prosecute anybody on terrorism charges stemming from an illegal entry through the U.S.-Mexican border.

‚óŹ Contact reporter Michael Marizco at 573-4213 or at
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