Officials in Spain and Thailand continue to investigate an alleged counterfeiting conspiracy linked to Lashkar-E Tayyiba (LeT) following this week's arrest of 10 people on suspicion of providing false European passports to terrorists. Spanish officials called the group "an important passport operation for al-Qaida" and said the arrests had weakened its ability to operate. Seven members of the alleged plot were arrested on Tuesday and Wednesday in Barcelona; the other three were arrested in Bangkok during the same period.
Spanish officials said the arrests came after an 18-month investigation. The suspects - eight Pakistanis, a Nigerian and a Thai - were part of a network with branches in London and Brussels. Muhammad Athar Butt, a 42-year-old Pakistani who was the alleged ringleader, was arrested in Thailand on Tuesday.
Authorities said the operation also provided counterfeit passports to the Tamil Tigers, a terrorist group defeated last year by Sri Lankan government forces.
Terror organizations would ask the counterfeiters to provide forged passports based on age and nationality, the Spanish officials said. The counterfeiting network would steal passports from tourists (usually in Spain) and send them to Thailand. From there, the passports would be forwarded to the terrorist organizations. Authorities there found equipment used to produce fake passports and immigration stamps.
Spanish police seized 50 cell phones, nine passports and a computer in raids on suspects' homes in Raval, a downtown Barcelona neighborhood that is home to many Pakistani immigrants. In January 2008, Spanish police arrested 14 Pakistani men in Raval in connection with a coordinated suicide bomb plot targeting the city's subway system and other locations in Britain, France, Germany and Portugal.