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Passport Smuggling Inquiry Sparks Manhunt

From Associated Press

Information from a passport smuggling investigation set off a nationwide search for five men of Middle Eastern origin who may have entered the United States from Canada on Christmas Eve, an FBI official said Monday.

A White House spokesman said the intelligence came from an anti-terrorism investigation, but the official and an FBI spokesman said they could not link -- or rule out -- a connection to a terrorist plot or cell.

The FBI released photographs of five men Sunday in hopes they would be recognized. However, bureau spokesman Ed Cogswell acknowledged that the FBI is not certain that the names and birth dates released with the photos are correct, or that the men even entered the country.

Nonetheless, federal and local officials are taking no chances.

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U.S. Customs Service spokesman Dean Boyd said inspectors along the U.S.-Canada border have stepped up their vigilance, asking more questions and increasing the number of vehicle and cargo inspections.

The intelligence information on the men came from an investigation into a worldwide smuggling operation that brings individuals with illegal passports into the United States.

The subjects of the manhunt are not those who ran the operation but likely are people who may have been smuggled across the border, Cogswell said.

The search comes just before large crowds gather for New Year’s Eve celebrations. The nation’s color-coded terrorism alert system remains at yellow -- the third of five levels.

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