Three Iranians traveling with fake Israeli passports were detained in Bulgaria over the weekend, The Sofia Globe reported.
The men were detained at the Bulgarian border as they attempted to enter the Kapitan Andreevo crossing from Turkey – a major transit point for entering Europe, the report said.
It is unclear though, how they managed to travel through Turkey without being detected.
The three men, aged 21, 28 and 32 arrived on October 31 and carried Israeli passports that had been “falsified,” the Interior Ministry told the Bulgarian media. They were detained by border police and then taken to a detention center in Lyubimets, in the southeast portion of the country where “fast-track proceedings” – a way to quickly deport the individuals – were initiated.
This is not the first time Iranian citizens have been caught using fake Israeli passports.
In July, an Iranian national, Esmaeil Kazem Hosseinitaghi, 42, was arrested at Dehli’s Indira Gandhi International Airport, traveling using a fake Israeli passport, and was then returned to Kathmandu, his immediate point of departure, The Himalayan Times
According to the report, Hosseinitaghi procured the passport in Turkey and was planning to travel to Europe.
“It is easier to enter Europe with an Israeli passport. I used to keep one passport in my pocket and show another passport to the airport immigration officials,” the Iranian national told immigration officials. “I faced security threats in my home country and therefore wanted to flee to Europe for my safety. I wanted to settle in Europe with my family,” Hosseinitaghi said.
In early 2016, an Iranian couple was caught in an airport in India traveling with both Iranian and fake Israeli passports
. They were arrested at Chennai Airport before they could board a British Airways flight, The New Indian Express
reported. The travelers arrived in Chennai on a domestic flight from Goa, where the passports were forged, and were questioned by Indian intelligence agencies.
According to the report, the woman had been living in Pune for the last ten years, while the man was working in Goa. After getting married, they planned to settle in the US and forged Israeli passports as a means to enter the country.
There have also been numerous reports of Iranians trying to enter Europe with fake passports of other nationalities. In April, an Iranian couple was arrested in Bangalore, India, trying to board a plane to Malaga, Spain, using fake Spanish passports. In February, an Iranian man was blocked from boarding a flight to the UK when it was discovered that his Danish passport was a fake. The same week, an Iranian woman was arrested en route to Britain using a fake UK passport. In November 2017, another Iranian woman was stopped at Bangkok airport, attempting to fly to the UK on a fake British passport.
In addition to individual cases of passport fraud, Reuters reported in June that numerous Iranians had bought passports from the Comoros Islands, a small nation between Mozambique and Madagascar. They included senior executives of companies working in shipping, oil and gas, and foreign currency and precious metals – all sectors that have been targeted by the international sanctions against Iran.
Diplomats and security sources in the Comoros and the West expressed their concern that some Iranians acquired the passports in order to protect their interests, as sanctions crimped Iran’s ability to conduct international business. Comoros passports offer visa-free travel in parts of the Middle and Far East and can be used by Iranians to open accounts in foreign banks and register companies abroad.
International sanctions against Iran were eased following a deal struck in 2015, which aimed at preventing Iran developing nuclear weapon capability. In May, US President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the agreement, saying it was “defective” and a “horrible, one-sided deal.”
Since then, the US Treasury has imposed fresh sanctions against people it links to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, the nation’s missile program, some Iranian airlines and money transfer services.
The most recent round of sanctions, which was implemented on Monday
, is part of a wider effort by Trump to force Iran to further limit its nuclear work and halt its missile program. It is also designed to end its support for its proxy forces in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, as well as in other parts of the Middle East.
The sanctions cover 50 Iranian banks and subsidiaries, more than 200 persons and vessels in its shipping sector, and targets Tehran’s national airline, Iran Air, and more than 65 of its aircraft. The sanctions were coined by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as the “toughest sanctions ever put in place on the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Reuters contributed to this report.
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