ICE first learned in March 2014 that Sharafat Khan was running a human smuggling network moving illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan through Latin America to the American border states of Texas and California.
Khan ran a global human smuggling network that transported between 25 and 99 illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan from Brazil to Texas and California. The majority were fellow Pakistanis.
Again, this prosecution, conviction, and imprisonment in 2017 provided a rare and revealing look at a smuggling pathway that homeland security authorities believe terrorists from Pakistan or Afghanistan could have used any time. A trove of court records tells some of the story.
ICE-HSI finally got cuffs on Khan in July 2016 after an international investigation, and he was sentenced in October 2017. As we know, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh are home to al Qaeda, ISIS affiliates, and many other U.S.-designated terrorist groups. The court records do not indicate whether any of Khan’s paying customers were extremists planning harm in the United States; such records typically would not include sensitive intelligence information like this. That doesn’t mean Islamic extremists were not among Khan’s up to 99 clients. Maybe none were. But it could be that federal authorities don’t know; in part, because there were so many to track down and investigate. Or if ICE-HSI did know of terrorism connections, they had good reasons to not disclose such information in court records to protect other investigations or sources.
In any case, Khan was uniquely situated to provide the travel capability that any extremist from his home region could have exploited for $15,000 or less. He is a 33-year-old native of Pakistan with permanent legal residency in Brasilia, Brazil, and an Ecuadoran passport. ICE-HSI Investigators learned he worked full-time at the Sao Paulo, Brazil, international airport. He preferred that paying customers call him “Dr. Nakib”. The dual residency, multiple passports, and airport job would have really helped Khan communicate in Urdu with other smugglers at home and to conduct multi-national operations. Khan charged his clients between $3,000 and $15,000 for the Brazil-U.S. border travel as part of a broader network based overseas, likely in Pakistan. He ran a network of smugglers all through Latin America, who guided his customers by bus, foot, and airplane to the U.S. border along variations of a Brazil-Venezuela-Peru-Ecuador-Colombia-Panama-Costa Rica-Nicaragua-El Salvador-Guatemala-Mexico route. The trip could take as long as nine months.
We learned that HSI agents interviewed 81 foreign nationals for this case in many different countries; among them were many of Khan’s clients after they had crossed into the United States, demonstrating one pretty clear value for singling out migrants as special interest aliens for interviews. For instance, one (referred to only as “UA1”) was interviewed at the Pharr, Texas, border port of entry. First, UA1 was flown from Pakistan to Sao Paulo, Brazil, after which UA1 rested up in a residence in the city of Brasilia controlled by Khan. Smuggler and client kept in touch by phone and WhatsApp at various points. From afar, Khan would tell UA1 where to go, who to contact, and when to give more money to Khan confederates along the way, like a shorter-range smuggler in Guatemala. Khan told UA1 to delete all the WhatsApp conversations and to not mention his name if caught at the U.S. border.
Of course, despite Khan’s encouragement not to discuss him, some obviously told investigators everything they knew. They clearly worked the case hard and also had some breaks. They obtained the text messaging from at least one Khan client, while other sources got up close and personal with recording devices. Brazilian federal police, as part of an unrelated investigation, raided Khan’s house in Brasilia. They took cell phones, a ledger documenting payments for his smuggling services, Western Union receipts, and the passports he would take from Pakistani customers. Khan fled the country in June 2016, using his Ecuadoran passport for travel. But he got caught in Doha while waiting for a connecting flight. Eventually, he was extradited to the United States and arrested. In October 2017, Khan was sentenced on a guilty plea to alien smuggling and received a 31-month sentence.