Fact Check

'Five Men' Terrorist Hunt

Is the FBI asking the public's assistance in locating five men who supposedly entered the USA illegally on 24 December 2002?

Published Dec 31, 2002


Claim:   The FBI is asking for the public's assistance in locating five men who supposedly entered the USA illegally on 24 December 2002.

Status:   Not any more.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2002]

This just in! FBI believes:
5 Arab Men with Terror Ties Snuck into Country!

FBI intelligence says these men may have snuck into the U.S. on Christmas Eve. All are believed to be connected to terrorism investigations.

The FBI is asking the public to help it locate 5 men of Arab decent who they believe entered the country illegally from Canada. All Americans are asked to help with this manhunt.

We're sending their pictures to 2 million Internet users and asking everyone to please pass the pictures to at least 5 people. The DC-area sniper suspect was captured with the help of an average citizen. These men can be caught with your help!

The FBI needs your help in the fight against terrorism!
Please Help This Manhunt.
Click here to pass these pictures to 5 people you know.

Origins:   When the above message began circulating via e-mail forwards shortly after Christmas 2002, everyone was asking, "Is it real?" Yes, the text did in fact describe a real warning issued by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on 29 December 2002 in which they asked the public to be on the lookout for the five men described above, whom they believed to have entered the USA illegally on 24 December 2002, possibly from Canada; subsequent events have proved, however, that the information on which the warning was based was bad.

The five men described in the warning were said to have been part of a group of nineteen who obtained bogus travel documents in Canada. FBI and White House officials wouldn't directly link the five men to terrorism but said their names came to light during an anti-terrorism investigation into a passport smuggling ring. According to the FBI's press release:

Although the FBI has no specific information that these individuals are connected to any potential terrorist activities, based upon information developed in the course of on-going investigations, the FBI would like to locate and question these persons.

The FBI was unclear on exactly how the five men might have slipped into the country — whether they got past border security, used an illegal entry point, or employed forged passports. The five men, who were believed to be traveling on false British passports, were traced to a forger in Pakistan with links to al-Qaida who has helped funnel other people into the United States, Knight Ridder Newspapers


A few days after the alert was issued, a Pakistani jeweler named Mohammed Asghar came forward and claimed that the picture of "Mustafa Khan Owasi" was actually a photograph of him, that he had never been to the USA, and that a passport forger who had crafted a phony visa for him had re-used his picture without his knowledge.

FBI officials later admitted that the information on which the warning had been based, provided by a forgery suspect held in police custody in Canada and awaiting extradition to the U.S., was probably fabricated and called off the search. Michael John Hamdani, who is in police custody in Canada, passed an initial Canadian polygraph test when he reported the alleged illegal entries, but officials said they were not convinced he told the truth after further investigation turned up discrepancies in his story.

Additional Information:
    FBI Press Release   FBI Press Release

Last updated:   8 March 2008

  Sources Sources:

    Anidjar, Patrick.   "Holiday Season Manhunt."

    The [Sydney] Daily Telegraph.   1 January 2003   (World; p. 13).

    Arena, Kelli.   "FBI Sources: Informant's Story About U.S. Infiltrators Is False."

    CNN.com.   6 January 2003.

    Lewis, Neil.   "F.B.I. Issues Alert for Five Illegal Immigrants Uncovered in Investigation of Terrorism."

    The New York Times.   30 December 2002   (p. A9).

    Tofig, Dana.   "Holiday Adds Urgency to Hunt for 5 Men."

    The Atlanta Journal and Constitution.   31 December 2002   (p. A3).

    CNN.com.   "FBI Ends Search for 'Infiltrators'."

    7 January 2003.

    The Washington Post.   "FBI Hunts for Five Men Believe in U.S. Illegally."

    30 December 2002   (p. A2).

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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