Thursday, June 21, 2018
Opinion

Column: Exploring the passport underground (w/video)

The presence of two men traveling on fake passports on the missing Malaysia Airlines plane initially seemed like an indication that terrorism might have been involved. But it now appears to have been an example of something far more common — two Iranian men traveling to Europe on forged passports from Thailand.

From the New York Times:

The 19-year-old Iranian passenger, Pouria Nourmohammadi Mehrdad, who was using a stolen Austrian passport, was traveling to Germany, where he was to meet his mother, said Khalid Abu Bakar, the inspector general of the Malaysian police.

We are in contact with his mother," Mr. Khalid said at a news conference.

Interpol identified the second Iranian traveler as Delavar Seyed Mohammad Reza, 29, who used a stolen Italian passport, and released a photograph of the two men boarding Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 at the same time.

Thousands of Iranians seeking to leave their home country wait in Asian countries with friendly visa regulations to make the second part of their migration to the West and to Australia. Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia are popular jumping-off points for middle-class Iranians who arrive on tourist visas and are helped by local travel agents and by people-traffickers to travel to the West.

Getting an Iranian passport isn't always that easy for Iranian citizens, and they are frequently forged, but even with one, options can be limited for travelers from the country. Iran is ranked 86th out of 93 on Henley & Partners' travel freedom index, which looks at visa restrictions on travelers.

Ironically, Israeli passports — which are considered easy to forge but allow a wide range of visa-free travel in Asia and Europe — seem to be one of the more popular options for Iranians looking to emigrate. Seven Iranians with forged Israeli passports were arrested in Vancouver last summer. They had been planning to emigrate.

Thailand, where the two men reportedly purchased their passports, has become a global hub for the production of fake travel documents. The documents in question here were apparently stolen at the beach resort of Phuket within the last two years.

The AP reported in 2005:

More rare and expensive are the lost or stolen passports — some of which have been sold by tourists to black market buyers. They are used by criminals to cross borders, where immigration officials' eyes are better trained to spot fakes.

Many of these passports are sold by or stolen from the more than 10 million tourists who visit Thailand each year.

In 2010 Thai police arrested a Pakistani national named Muhammed Ather "Tony" Butt, who had allegedly operating a passport-forging gang for more than a decade and was linked to terrorism groups including those responsible for the 2004 Madrid train bombing, the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is accused in involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, and Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers.

Last August, Malaysian police arrested an Iranian who had jumped bail in Thailand after being held for a year on suspicion of "providing fake passports to human trafficking and drug rings, as well as terrorists plotting out bombings in Bangkok."

A spokesman for Iran's parliament has called reports about the two Iranians on the plane "psychological warfare" and an attempt to pin the blame on Muslim countries, but in this case, authorities seem to be strongly leaning against the possibility that the two men were in any way involved in terrorism.

Like thousands of others every year, they seem to have been migrants attempting a dangerous journey who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

© 2014 Slate

Comments
Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

The shocking scenes of immigrant children crying after being taken from their parents at the border exposed a new level of cruelty by the Trump administration, and though the president reversed course Wednesday, Congress needs to end the shameful pra...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

A Tallahassee judge has affirmed the overwhelming intent of Florida voters by ruling that state lawmakers have failed to comply with a constitutional amendment that is supposed to provide a specific pot of money to buy and preserve endangered lands. ...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/20/18
Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Innocent children should not be used as political pawns. That is exactly what the Trump administration is doing by cruelly prying young children away from their parents as these desperate families cross the Mexican border in search of a safer, better...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/19/18

Editorial: ATF should get tougher on gun dealers who violate the law

Gun dealers who break the law by turning a blind eye to federal licensing rules are as dangerous to society as people who have no right to a possess a firearm in the first place. Yet a recent report shows that the federal agency responsible for polic...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/18/18
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
Published: 06/15/18
Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Forty years ago today, Nelson Poynter died. He was the last individual to own this newspaper, and to keep the Times connected to this community, he did something remarkable. He gave it away.In his last years, Mr. Poynter recognized that sooner or lat...
Published: 06/15/18

There was no FBI anti-Trump conspiracy

The Justice Department released Thursday the highly anticipated report on the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe and other sensitive issues in the 2016 election. It is not the report President Donald Trump wanted. But there is enough i...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Voter purge may be legal, but it’s also suppression

The Supreme Court’s ruling last Monday to allow Ohio’s purging of its voter rolls is difficult to dispute legally. While federal law prohibits removing citizens from voter rolls simply because they haven’t voted, Ohio’s purge is slightly different. T...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Editorial: Free rides will serve as a test of whether the streetcar is serious transportation

Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to ride for free?This fall, the TECO Streetcar Line eliminates its $2.50-a-ride-fare, providing the best opportunity yet to see whether the system’s vintage streetcar replicas can serve as a legitimate transportation a...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

AT&T and the case for digital innovation

A good way to guarantee you’ll be wrong about something is to predict the future of technology. As in, "One day, we’ll all …" Experts can hazard guesses about artificial intelligence, driverless cars or the death of cable television, but technologica...
Published: 06/14/18