WASHINGTON -- An Egyptian man US authorities described as one of their most wanted smugglers of humans was arrested yesterday on charges of operating a ring that illegally brought people from Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries to the United States.
A grand jury indictment charges Ashraf Ahmed Abdallah, 34, with one count of conspiracy to commit alien smuggling and four counts of assisting in bringing aliens into the United States for financial gain.
US officials described Abdallah as an important trafficking kingpin because of his focus on people from the Middle East.
"The fact that Abdallah is no longer smuggling individuals from special-interest nations into the United States makes America a safer nation," said Michael J. Garcia, head of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The indictment says Abdallah and his associates would direct people seeking to reach the United States to travel to one of several Latin American countries, and from there to Guatemala.
They would then be transported to the United States through Mexico in return for payments of thousands of dollars in smuggling fees.
Abdallah often would keep the illegal immigrants' passports to guarantee payment of those fees, prosecutors said.
The indictment was originally returned under court-ordered seal in December 2001, and the charges are limited to an alleged smuggling conspiracy between June and October 2001.
Abdallah, who had a residence in Guatemala City and had returned to Egypt in January 2002, was arrested yesterday at Miami International Airport while traveling from Ecuador to Egypt.
If convicted on all five counts, Abdallah faces up to 70 years in prison.
There were no allegations that any of the illegal immigrants were involved in international terrorism.