Four Pakistanis Missing After INS Wrongly Let Them Enter Country
WASHINGTON — Federal officials are on the lookout for four Pakistani nationals who are in the United States illegally after leaving a freighter that had been docked in Virginia sometime last weekend.
Immigration and Naturalization Service district directors and border patrol chiefs from across the country met on a "crisis management" conference call Thursday afternoon in which it was revealed that one of the four missing Pakistanis showed up on a "look out list" described by call participants as a "terrorist list."
Some members on Capitol Hill who have heard about the case are "furious," according to sources, and the embarrassment is said to have further angered President Bush, who was put in another awkward situation last week when the INS mailed visa approvals for two Sept. 11 hijackers to the flight school they attended last year.
The Coast Guard is distributing fliers in the Norfolk, Va., area of the missing crew members: Ahmad Salman, Thulan Qadar, Mohammad Nazir and Adnan Ahmad. They were onboard the Progresso, a Malta-chartered freighter that was carrying a chemical commonly used in fertilizer, when it made port a week ago Friday near Norfolk from Novorossisk, Russia. The ship has a 27-member crew; 19 are Pakistani. The captain is Croatian.
Last Friday, an INS inspector granted the four Pakistanis "shore leave visa waivers," which allowed them to come ashore even though they had not been granted visas for entry into the United States.
According to the Justice Department, none of the men's names came up on the watch list. A DOJ source said the inspector incorrectly entered one crew member's birthdate, allowing a law enforcement check to come up clean. When the information was re-entered into the Interagency Border Information System after the men went missing, it showed that one man had violated his visa status in the past.
The official said, "None of them came up with anything terror or criminal related."
However, the INS inspector violated INS rules, which prohibit Pakistanis from receiving waivers. After Sept. 11, the INS issued a directive specifically denying Pakistani crew members shore leave or "admission as crewman," which is offered to nationals from 29 mostly Western European countries with which the United States has specific reciprocal arrangements.
Pakistanis are also denied expedited processes and require extra scrutiny, according to INS directives.
All the men told the INS inspector that they did not have any family in the area and that they were veteran merchant mariners. The INS inspector did not have access to electronically crosscheck the Pakistanis' identification while in the field.
Sources said that over the weekend, one of the men left while the ship was at a dock on South Military Highway in Chesapeake. Later, the ship moved to Triport Terminal, another facility a few miles down the southern branch of the Elizabeth River. Three more men left there.
Sunday afternoon, the captain reported to the INS inspector that the four Pakistanis had not returned to the ship. The Progresso then departed for Savannah, Ga.