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Few checks for stolen passports-August 23, 2004.
Craig S. Smith/NYT. Monday, August 23, 2004
Terrorists benefit, Interpol warns


Despite heightened terror alerts around the world, people traveling on stolen passports continue to slip across international borders because few countries check to see if incoming passports are among those known to be missing, says Interpol, the international police organization based here.

For example, Milorad Ulemek, believed to have ordered the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindic of Serbia in March 2003, traveled in the previous two years with a stolen passport that border control officers in six countries stamped 26 times, including 6 times in Switzerland and 14 times in Greece.

"What's most shocking for me is how few countries are checking to see what passports coming in are stolen," Ronald Noble, the secretary general of Interpol, said in a recent interview. He said that if European border controls had been tighter, Djindic might not have been killed. The lack of vigilance in screening for stolen passports is one of most disturbing lapses in an anti-terrorism effort that remains frighteningly lax, Interpol officials say.

Any review of the many terrorism investigations around the world shows the extent to which Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations rely on falsified travel documents to move operatives. Often such documents are traded among associates in a terrorist network, but more frequently they are stolen or bought on the black market and changed with a photograph.

Noble is leading an effort to stop that by linking Interpol's 181 member countries to a stolen travel documents database that will let immigration officials at any border post screen incoming passports and ensure that they are not among the thousands of such documents reported stolen each year.