WASHINGTON • With the US and other countries on high alert for militant attacks, Washington has warned that followers of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) may have infiltrated American borders with authentic-looking passports that the militant group has printed with its own machines, according to an intelligence report.
A spokesman for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed the contents of the story reported by ABC News and CNN.
The report says ISIS has access to Syrian government passport printing machines and blank passports, raising the possibility of fake travel documents, CNN reported, citing a law enforcement source. There was also concern about identity theft, since the militant group had access to biographical and fingerprint data on Syrian citizens.
ABC News, which first carried the story last Thursday, said the report was released to law enforcement by the Homeland Security Investigations agency last week and raised the possibility that militants could use the documents to travel to the United States.
More than 17 months after 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 travelled to the US", ABC News reported.
State Department spokesman John Kirby, asked at a briefing on Friday about the ABC report, replied: "We have been aware of reports, not just in the press, that they may have obtained this capability."
FBI director James Comey told a Senate committee hearing last Wednesday: "The intelligence community is concerned that (ISIS has) the ability, the capability to manufacture fraudulent passports..."
Europe has also been alarmed by the discovery of fake Syrian passports, notably two used by the suicide bombers behind the Paris attacks last month, representing an even steeper challenge in managing the refugee crisis.
A market in fake Syrian passports has sprung up, particularly in Turkey, to help migrants and refugees enter the EU, said the bloc's border agency in September.
The report included one example in which law enforcement officials said that a Syrian passport discovered in Turkey had a number indicating it had been printed in an ISIS-controlled area, said ABC.
The discovery of fake passports comes as confidence in the US government to protect its citizens from militant attacks reaches its lowest level in more than a decade, a poll released on Friday found.
After a pair of suspected militants gunned down 14 people in California on Dec 2, data collected by Gallup a week later found only 55 per cent of about 1,000 respondents said they had "a fair amount"or "a great deal" of confidence that the authorities could protect the country from further attacks.
The finding represents a drop of 12 percentage points since June and extends the gradual erosion in confidence that began soon after the Sept 11, 2001, attacks by terrorists in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. It is the lowest reading since Gallup began asking the question, following the 2001 attacks.
Separately, the US has urged its citizens to avoid travelling to Lebanon, after deadly bombings in Beirut last month claimed by ISIS.
"Sudden outbreaks of violence can occur at any time in Lebanon," the State Department said, warning of risks in the politically fragile country bordering war-wracked Syria.