In March 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) investigators set their final dragnet at the Miami International Airport and waited to score a win in the war on terror. Soon enough, their longtime quarry, Iran Ul Haq, a Pakistani resident of Ecuador they’d been tracking across the globe for months, stepped off a plane from Quito and they slapped cuffs on him.
A secret, high-wire intercontinental undercover sting of a rare sort the American public knows nothing about was finally over.
For years, Ul Haq had run a profitable, globe-spanning human smuggling network out of Quito, transporting an endless backlog of fellow Pakistanis through Latin America to the US southwestern border. He charged them $60,000 each. Run by ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) with other countries from both the US attaché office in Quito and a local residence office in Atlanta, Georgia, The investigation had been complicated and expensive. It also was unique for another important reason; HSI agents were able to test a theory about long-distance human smuggling operators like Ul Haq. Was he willing to smuggle anyone into the US, even avowed terrorists?
To test this proposition, HSI agents directed three undercover informants posing as smuggling brokers to propose that Ul Haq transport one of several fictitious members of the notorious terrorist group Terik-e-Taliban, known as the Pakistan Taliban, across the US-Mexico border. The terrorist, it was explained, had been “blacklisted” by Pakistan and others like him were waiting in line for travel to America.
Ul Haq didn’t bat an eye. Of course he would do it, he responded, according to unsealed court documents. Ul Haq was recorded saying he could care less about what the terrorist would do once in the US – “hard labor, sweep floors, wash dishes in a hotel or blow up. That will be up to them.” Ul Haq accepted payment, provided the reputed terrorist with a bogus Ecuadorian passport bearing someone else’s fingerprints, and planned his trip from Lahore, Pakistan to Dubai, UAE, then on to Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Haiti for the final leg to the US.
In January 2012, Ul Haq was sentenced to 50 months in prison on a charge that was rare for an alien smuggler: material support for terrorism.
Read the complete report in the Dec/Jan 2016 Homeland Security Today.
Todd Bensman is a 23-year veteran journalist and writer based in Texas who in September 2015 earned a master’s degree in homeland security studies from the Naval Postgraduate School and its Center for Homeland Defense and Security in Monterey, California. This report is based on his thesis, titled in part, The Ultra-Distance Marathoners of Human Smuggling. He is a two-time National Press Club award winner for foreign reporting, including one for his reporting on Islamic immigration over American borders, and served as a reporter for the Dallas Morning News, CBS News and as an investigative reporter for Hearst Newspapers focused on Islamic extremism, border security and Mexico’s drug war.