Thai police link forgery arrests to huge terror cell

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Two Pakistanis and a Thai woman arrested on suspicion of making fake passports for Al-Qaeda linked groups were part of criminal networks tied to "many terrorist attacks", Thai police said Thursday.

The arrests in Thailand formed part of an international operation to stamp out a huge cell that has been linked to the 2008 attacks in Mumbai and the Madrid train bombings in 2004.

Pakistanis Muhammad Athar Butt, 39, and Zeeshan Ehsan Butt, 29, and Thai national Sirikanlaya Kijbumrung, 25, were arrested in Thailand on Tuesday as they attempted to flee into Laos.

"They are suspected of being part of a transnational criminal group, linked with terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba and involved with many terrorist attacks in Spain and European Union countries," a statement by Thai police said.

The Thai raids were coordinated with Spanish police, who arrested six Pakistanis and a Nigerian in raids in and around Barcelona, which has a large Pakistani community, late on Tuesday.

Thailand's Department of Special Investigation, working alongside authorities in Spain, found criminal networks in South Asia, specifically Pakistan and Bangladesh, had used Thailand as a base for document forgery.

"These are linked with terrorist groups, credit fraud, human trafficking and arms traders, which use those forged passports to enter third countries," the statement continued.

Police seized forged passports, immigration documents, faked rubber stamps, computers, mobile phones, passport photos, UK driving licences and other counterfeiting equipment.

Special branch police chief lieutenant general Tritos Ronritthiwichai told reporters the three suspects were charged with passport and document forgery, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

"It is time for Thailand to arrest, eliminate and push out these criminals from our country because they are not welcome here," he said.

Operation Kampai "neutralised a vast cell that helped provide passports for Al-Qaeda", according to a statement by the Spanish interior ministry on Wednesday.

© 2010 AFP

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