Thai police arrest Pakistani passport forger linked to Islamic State
A Pakistani passport forger whose fakes were said to have been sold to Islamic State operatives has been arrested in Thailand, police said on Friday, ending a career that may have helped people slip into Europe illegally.
Mohammad Iqbal, 52, was arrested on January 14 in a Bangkok suburb with fake Singaporean and Indian passports, plates and laminates to forge entry visas to France, Italy and Spain.
“He has worked on faking documents for a long time using Thailand as his base,” Commander of the Immigration Bureau Lieutenant General Suttipong Vongpint told reporters in Bangkok.
Iqbal, who is believed to have operated from Thailand for more than 10 years, was charged with falsifying passports, visa seals and trafficking of fake passports a few days after police seized him as he pulled into his Bangkok condo on a motorbike.
Earlier this week defence minister Prawit Wongsuwon linked Iqbal to a group selling passports to Islamic State.
“The suspect has falsified visa and passports for the IS group with the attempt to make them travel from the Middle East into Thailand,” he said, adding that the attempts were unsuccessful.
But at Friday’s press conference, officials downplayed any IS connections, saying he was a businessman who welcomed all clients.
“Based on the investigation he will sell to every group, not particularly to IS, he just made them by orders,” Suttipong said.
A typical fake passport would sell for only a few hundred US dollars, according to the immigration bureau.
Thailand’s role as a global hub for fake passports came under renewed scrutiny following the 2014 disappearance of Malaysian Airlines MH370.
Two Iranians travelling on European passports bought and modified in Thailand were on board the ill-fated flight.
Immigration police said Iqbal was affiliated with a shadowy Iranian master forger known as ‘The Doctor’ who sold ‘Triple A’ quality passports to refugees, economic migrants and criminals from a Bangkok suburb for nearly 20 years.
Detectives hailed his 2016 arrest as a breakthrough in the fight against passport crime – although other forgers have taken his place.