The secret-agent-cloaked passport of suspected counter-terror recruit Wissam Najm Hassoun was found with him, along with the passport of Rasha Jan, 37, who fled Britain when she could not get a visa for Oman.
Eight passports, cover photos and intimate details of their owners were found with Hassoun in an allegedly search-engine fraud scheme. Jan fled Britain after failing to get an Oman visa. And Sabri Mahrouge, 44, a Lebanese woman found dead with two other men, was thought to have fled Lebanon because she could not get a visa to Britain.
Jan and Mahrouge were among almost 50 people arrested under Operation Clearview, which targeted transactions involving offshore companies and online impersonations.
In common with most British passport registrations, the identities of the suspects were kept a closely guarded secret.
But this new revelation of the extent of the suspected scam – described by one expert as the biggest of its kind – has caused outrage.
Hassoun, a senior al-Qaida operative, was lured into the web. The 32-year-old seized from his London flat in April was initially considered a “low risk” target by MI5. He is thought to have been linked to Sami al-Saadi, one of the suicide bombers who killed 52 people in the 2005 London bombings.
It is alleged Hassoun and Jan operated out of the Lebanese capital, Beirut, before they were captured by US forces at a base in Wiesbaden, Germany, in late 2017.
However, they were also allegedly connected to former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, who claimed the police accused him of leaking sensitive information.
Ritter, who has been cleared of leaking and is described as an “expert” by Hassoun, has refused to comment.
Hassoun was arrested as he waited to fly to Somalia, where he had hoped to join al-Shabaab, an Islamic militant group aligned with al-Qaida. He has denied his militant links and his extradition is under way in Germany.
Investigators concluded Hassoun had accompanied 30 British passport holders to Lebanon to have them issued with fake British passports, including those of Mahrouge and Jan. The passport is said to have been issued to his nephew Rabia Hassoun and his brother Ahmed, 29.
Sources said more than 100 British citizens were arrested by the four major agencies that comprise the taskforce. At least 16 suspects remain under active investigation.