Forged Syrian Passports Are a Prized Commodity
For countless people they're a necessity to escape violence, and are often stolen or fabricated as a consequence
French authorities have found at least one Syrian passport near the body of one of the terrorists that struck Paris. Greek authorities said the carrier registered the passport on the island of Leros — a passport that some intelligence officials now believe may have been fake.
It’s still unknown whether the killer was actually a Syrian citizen or an Islamic State militant who simply carried the passport and blended in with the millions of desperate people trying to escape war. Authorities haven’t ruled out the possibility the passport changed hands within Europe or got stolen.
What we do know is that Syrian passports are common … and often counterfeit.
There has long been a thriving black market for passports as record numbers of people seek out new lives in the West. And for years, terror analysts have warned that terrorists could exploit this black market and pose as refugees.
Forged Syrian passports have become a commodity for refugees crossing the Mediterranean and walking through Europe. Several European countries have agreed to take in Syrian refugees, but for millions more — Iraqis, Afghans, Libyans, Eritreans, Yemenese, Somalis and others — are fleeing violence and deprivation in their homelands but are disqualified for programs aimed at Syrians.
As a result, Syrian passports are a ticket for refugees and their families to qualify for aid programs. However, many actual Syrian refugees have purchased forged passports as well. For Syrians, nearly every step of escaping the bloody civil war is incredibly difficult, and getting papers is no exception.
Under the strain of constant war, it’s difficult for the embattled Syrian government to do any sort of regular business even if it wanted to, but the regime’s hostile attitude toward those trying to leave the country has made getting a passport even harder.
Even those who have a passport can lose it, and it’s almost impossible to get a new one — so many get a forged one in its place to keep moving.
Islamic State and the Bashar Al Assad regime regard people fleeing Syria and Iraq with disdain. For the Syrian state, it’s a humiliating symbol of the government’s failure to exert control over its subjects. Islamic State propagandists call Syrians fleeing Assad’s bombs cowards, and those fleeing its own oppressive rule traitors.
The chaotic nature of the crisis creates ample room for Islamic State to move its agents back and forth. Whether the Bataclan killer was actually a Syrian or a non-Syrian terrorist, it’s already led many Westerners to be even more fearful of the refugees.
There’s a good chance that was one of the intended outcomes of the attack. Islamic State has previously outlined its goal of destroying “grayzones,” multicultural spaces where Muslims coexist with Christians and others. The terror group has openly stated that it seeks to turn non-Muslims in Europe and the Americas against their Muslim co-citizens to make life “unlivable” for the latter.
After the Charlie Hedbo shooting, Islamic State put out a release stating, “The time had come for another event — magnified by the presence of the Khilafah on the global stage — to bring further division to the grayzone everywhere.”
Islamic State militants simultaneously victimize refugees while exploiting the crisis they helped create. Meanwhile, the European far right has used the latest attacks as a springboard for more anti-refugee and anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Perhaps ironically, both Islamic State and the far right have many of the same goals — they both despise multiculturalism and want to incite ethnic confrontations. And both seem to be riding a wave of fear, anger and confusion to further their respective agendas.
Correction 11/16/2015 – This article originally stated that Greek authorities registered the passport on the island of Lesbos. It was in fact the nearby island of Leros.