— -- The terror group ISIS has created a whole “industry” out of the production of fake passports, a high-level French official said today.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters that through ISIS’s operations in Syria, Iraq and Libya, the group has acquired blank passports and has now set up a “real fake document industry.” Cazeneuve made the statement following a meeting with top European officials where he proposed setting up a new task force to help nab people attempting to come into the European Union with fake papers.
Last month ABC News reported that U.S. intelligence suspected ISIS had acquired thousands of blank Syrian passports and at least one passport printing machine after taking over government offices in Syria. Officials from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) said in a 17-page report that the terror group has likely been able to print legitimate-looking Syrian passports since at least last summer – and raised the possibility that people using the forged documents have snuck into America.
“Since more than 17 months [have] passed since Raqqa and Deir ez-Zour fell to ISIS, it is possible that individuals from Syria with passports ‘issued’ in these ISIS-controlled cities or who had passport blanks, may have traveled to the U.S.,” the HSI report says.
The report notes that the primary source for the information was rated at “moderate confidence,” the second-highest rating given for source assessments. Testifying before lawmakers days after the HSI report was circulated to American authorities, FBI Director James Comey first publicly revealed the nation’s top security officials’ very real anxiety over the problem.
“The intelligence community is concerned that they [ISIS] have the ability, the capability to manufacture fraudulent passports, which is a concern in any setting,” Comey said.
Former Department of Homeland Security intelligence official and ABC News consultant John Cohen said in December, “If ISIS has been able to acquire legitimate passports or machines that create legitimate passports, this would represent a major security risk in the United States.”
Fake Syrian passports have already been discovered in Europe, most notably two used by suicide bombers in the horrific terrorist attack on Paris in November. The two men are believed to have slipped into Europe with a flood of Syrian refugees fleeing the violence in their homeland.
According to the source that provided the passport information to HSI, Syria is awash in fake documents.
“The source further stated that fake Syrian passports are so prevalent in Syria that Syrians do not even view possessing them as illegal,” the report says. “The source stated fake Syrian passports can be obtained in Syria for $200 to $400 and that backdated passport stamps to be placed in the passport cost the same.”
ABC News' Rym Momtaz contributed to this report.