WASHINGTON – The FBI is widening its search for an expanding group of foreign men it believes may have entered the United States illegally over the Canadian border around Christmas, government officials say.
The officials, some of whom work in law enforcement, told The Associated Press on Tuesday night the government has identified several more men it fears may have used fake passports to get into the country around or after Christmas Eve.
A small number of names and photos of such men may be released in the next day or so, FBI spokeswoman Angela Bell said Wednesday night.
Authorities identified five such men on Sunday and asked the public's help in identifying them.
But on Wednesday, a Pakistani jeweler said his picture is among those of five suspects, but said he has never visited the United States.
An Associated Press photograph of Mohammed Asghar taken at his shop in Lahore on Wednesday was a near-perfect match for the one included on the FBI list under the name Mustafa Khan Owasi, down to the prominent mole on Asghar's left cheek.
Asghar, 30, told AP he was surprised to open a local newspaper and see his picture with another man's name beneath it.
Asghar said his only attempt at traveling abroad was frustrated when police in the United Arab Emirates discovered he had a forged visa. He suggested that the document forgers he once patronized could have used his picture to create false travel documents for another man.
In addition to Mustafa Khan Owasi, those named were: Abid Noraiz Ali, Iftikhar Khozmai Ali, Mustafa Khan Owasi, Adil Pervez and Akbar Jamal. Each has a purported birth date between 1969 and 1983.
The FBI and Homeland Security officials were considering making the names and photos of about a half dozen more men public as early as Wednesday, the officials said, speaking only on condition of anonymity.
Officials cautioned they have no specific evidence the men are involved in a terrorist plot, but said the men may have connections to a fake ID and smuggling ring that involves some people with terrorist connections.
"We don't have any idea of what their intentions might be, but we are mindful that there are still some out there who would try to harm America and harm Americans and so therefore we take every threat seriously, every piece of evidence seriously," President Bush said Tuesday in explaining why he has ordered the search.
Much of the search so far has focused on New York City, home to a large New Year's Eve celebration that went off without incident.
But the broader investigation into fake IDs has spanned several countries, including Canada, Pakistan and Britain, the officials said.
Because intelligence indicated several men were trying to use fake passports to get into the United States before New Year's Day -- a holiday of symbolic significance to Islamic terrorists -- U.S. officials were making aggressive efforts to track them down and make sure they posed no threat, the officials said.
Several of the men have names or passports from countries with large terrorist presences, further heightening concern, the officials said.
The additional names expected to be made public Wednesday have come from the same Canadian intelligence sources that identified the five men whose identities were released over the weekend, the officials said.
The expanding search came as federal authorities received unsubstantiated information that terrorists could launch a maritime attack on New York City, a threat taken seriously because of the large crowds that gather in Times Square on New Year's Eve.
Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the new agency, said the government reacted similarly to the way it did July 4, when security was increased mainly because of the crowds rather than information from specific threats.
Johndroe said the information on the new threat was "unsubstantiated, uncorroborated and of suspect credibility."
There are no plans to raise the nation's threat level above yellow, the middle of a five-tiered color-coded rating system, Johndroe said.
The FBI on Sunday released photos, names and birth dates of the five and sought the public's help tracking them down for questioning. However, bureau officials acknowledge they are not certain that the identities and ages are correct.
The five, described by the FBI as men of Middle Eastern origin, may have fake passports since the information that led to the FBI bulletin came from an investigation into an illegal passport scheme.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., told a news conference Tuesday it is believed the five crossed the border into New York state with false documents. She said the Homeland Security Department needs to establish an office dedicated to improving security along the nation's northern border.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.