BOGOTA, Colombia – Colombia insisted Friday that a false-passport ring it dismantled may have links to Al Qaeda and Hamas, despite U.S. doubts about the counterfeiters' connection to the terrorist groups.
Colombian officials said Thursday the gang supplied citizens from Pakistan, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and other countries with false passports and Colombian nationality without them ever setting foot in the country.
U.S. officials expressed surprise at the announcement of the investigation, which they said involved people posing as members of Colombia's largest rebel army, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
"We are not alleging any connections to any terror organization other than the FARC," U.S. Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra said.
But Otalora told the Associated Press on Friday: "The extradition request we received from the United States says eight of those arrested Thursday are suspected of having links with international terrorist groups."
However, there was no mention of the terrorist links in an indictment unsealed Wednesday in Miami in which at least eight of the arrested are accused of smuggling suspected Colombian rebels into the United States to traffic drugs and launder money.
The counterfeit Colombian, Spanish, Portuguese and German passports were used to enter the United States and Europe, he said.
Four Jordanian citizens were among those arrested and eight are being sought by the United States for extradition from Colombia, Otalora said.
But Sierra said the United States would seek to extradite the smugglers.
"The operation was, in fact, a sting operation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement," he said.