Police nab suspected Taliban at factory

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Police nab suspected Taliban at factory

Two Pakistani men suspected to be members of the Taliban have been under police investigation on charges of illegally entering South Korea, the National Police Agency said yesterday.

The incident has raised alarm bells among law enforcement and immigration control authorities as the country beefs up security before it hosts the Group of 20 summit in November.

According to the police sources, Saleem Mohamed, 39, and Sher Alam, 37, arrived at the port of Gunsan, North Jeolla, on Feb. 7, 2007, aboard a Pakistani cargo ship. The two, who did not have passports, successfully bypassed immigration control and security at the port, the sources said.

Since April last year, they have been working at a cement block factory in Changnyeong, North Gyeongsang, trying to settle down in Korea.

The police and immigration control office received information on March 25 that Mohamed used to be a key Taliban official, sources said. Two days later, the two men were taken into the immigration office’s custody.

The National Police Agency’s Foreign Affairs Bureau has sought information from the Pakistani government, Interpol and U.S. intelligence authorities, but no evidence has been found yet to link Mohamed with a senior position in the Taliban, sources said. On Thursday, the police detained the men on charges of illegally entering Korea.

According to the police, Mohamed told them he received training by the Taliban in November 2007 for 18 days. The suspect told the police that he was forced to join the group, but escaped and went to Sri Lanka. From there, he smuggled himself into Korea to earn money, Mohamed told the police, sources said.

The police also investigated a communal computer from the lodging facility at the Changnyeong factory and found nothing suspicious, a police official said.

The police, however, are paying special attention to the case to eliminate the possibility of terrorist infiltration ahead of the G-20 summit.

Every year, about 10,000 foreigners are believed to enter Korea through illegal means such as using forged passports, the ministry said.

Alarmed by the illegal entries to Korea, the police urged the National Assembly to pass a bill to require foreigners’ fingerprint registrations. The system existed until 2003, but was scrapped in 2004 due to concerns about rights violations.

Saying that the United States began fingerprint registration in 2004, the police say Korea should resume the practice.

The police recently launched a preparation committee ahead of the G-20 summit and arranged meetings with diplomatic missions in Korea.

By Kang In-sik, Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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