TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) --
The men flocked to the cafe under the sign with the cedar tree, symbol of their
Mideast home. Here, in this alien border land, it was the beacon that led to an
Arab "brother" who would help them complete their journey from Lebanon
Until his arrest in December 2002, Boughader smuggled about 200 Lebanese compatriots
into the United States, including sympathizers of Hezbollah, designated a terrorist
organization by U.S. authorities. One client, Boughader said, worked for a Hezbollah-owned
television network, which glorifies suicide bombers and is itself on an American
terror watch list....
After Boughader was locked up, other smugglers operating in Lebanon, Mexico
and the United States continued to help Hezbollah-affiliated migrants in their
effort to illicitly enter from Tijuana, a U.S. immigration investigator said in
Mexican court documents obtained by the AP.
Another smuggling network that is controlled by Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebel
group — a U.S.-designated terror organization — tried sneaking four
Tigers over the California-Mexico border en route to Canada not long after the
Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigator
Steven Schultz said. The four were caught along with 17 other Sri Lankans, all
posing as Mexicans, attempting to enter ports at San Ysidro and Otay Mesa.
An AP investigation found these are just some of the many pipelines in Central
and South America, Mexico and Canada that have illegally channeled thousands of
people into the United States from so-called "special-interest" countries
— those identified by the U.S. government as sponsors or supporters of terrorism.
Even when caught, illegal immigrants from those countries and other nations
are sometimes released while awaiting deportation hearings, then miss those court
dates, according to the AP's investigation, which also documented deep concerns
about security threats along the lightly patrolled, 4,000-mile U.S.-Canada border....
At least one al-Qaida-linked man smuggled himself over the border. Nabil al-Marabh,
a now-deported Syrian citizen once No. 27 on the FBI's list of terror suspects
and accused by Canadian authorities of having connections to Osama bin Laden's
network, was caught sneaking from Canada into New York in the back of a tractor-trailer
in June 2001 with a fake Canadian passport.
"Several al-Qaida leaders believe operatives can pay their way into the
country through Mexico and also believe illegal entry is more advantageous than
legal entry," Jim Loy, deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security,
told a congressional committee in February. Further, he said, "entrenched
human smuggling networks and corruption in areas beyond our borders can be exploited
by terrorist organizations."...
"Today they could be smuggling people, tomorrow weapons," said John
Torres, deputy assistant director for smuggling and public safety investigations
at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. "The vulnerability there
is a criminal or terrorist organization could take advantage of that existing
These smugglers use staging areas and transportation coordinators in such places
as Quito, Ecuador; Lima, Peru; Cali, Colombia; and Guatemala City...
They have moved people by plane — into suburban Washington, D.C., Florida,
California. And they have crossed clients in vehicles or on foot into Texas, New
Mexico, Arizona, California and over the Canadian border, then helped deliver
them to destinations across America.
They have partnered with other smugglers transporting Mexican or Central American
migrants, sometimes swapping clients and transferring immigrants from "special-interest"
countries and other migrants in the same loads....
Central and South America are popular transit points because of their proximity
to the United States and the relative ease with which migrants from countries
with terrorist ties can obtain tourist visas there — either legally or through
Boughader's clients told U.S. and Mexican investigators they paid thousands
of dollars to obtain fraudulent visas from Mexico's consular office in Beirut....
In May, the former director of immigration in Honduras was arrested, accused
of selling hundreds of Honduran passports to migrants from Lebanon, China, Cuba
and Colombia — possibly to aid their entry into the United States...
Maximiano Ramos, a former Los Angeles supervisor with the U.S. Immigration
and Naturalization Service, admitted taking $12,500 to smuggle immigrants from
the Philippines, home of the al-Qaida-linked militant group Abu Sayyaf....
Intelligence suggests that since 1999 human smugglers have facilitated the
travel of terrorists associated with more than a dozen extremist groups, according
to the Sept. 11 commission's terrorist travel report Kephart helped write. Prior
to Sept. 11, al-Qaida employed smugglers to get jihad recruits into Afghanistan
for training, the report said....
Kourani, who helped raise donations for Hezbollah, entered the United States
via the Lebanon-Tijuana pipeline, paying $3,000 in Beirut to get a Mexican visa,
according to federal court documents. On Feb. 4, 2001, he and another man were
smuggled into California in the hidden compartment of a vehicle....