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Feds arrest 31 in visa fraud probe

Investigation targeted U.S. Embassy in Qatar

From Elise Labott
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Thirty-one foreign nationals have been arrested in the United States after obtaining fraudulent visas from the U.S. Embassy in Doha, Qatar, State Department officials said Tuesday.

The arrests stemmed from a visa fraud investigation launched by the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service in which 70 foreign nationals were found to have gotten visas from the embassy.

One official said the DSS made the arrests in "all geographic locations" across the United States.

State Department officials said the department was investigating the possibility that employees in the embassy issued the fraudulent visas.

"Once we learned the visas were being issued illegally, we took actions to stop it," one official said.

The department was still hunting for 29 suspects who received the fraudulent visas, officials said. Six others who entered the United States may have already left. The rest are the spouses of suspects who applied for the visas.

The investigation, dubbed Operation Eagle Strike, was launched after the FBI warned the State Department about a person it was investigating, Rasmi al-Shannaq, who received a visa in Qatar.

Al-Shannaq, a Jordanian national, was arrested last month on visa fraud and immigration violations.

Federal investigators said he lived for two months last summer in a Virginia apartment with two of the September 11 hijackers, although they have no indication he had any part in the attacks.

The U.S. attorney prosecuting al-Shannaq's case was expected to lay out the results of Operation Eagle Strike at al-Shannaq's detention hearing Wednesday in Baltimore.

State Department officials said it was too early to tell whether the 70 people who received visas were involved in terrorism, but they were pursuing various leads.




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