A nationwide sweep of immigrant-run jewelry stores launched in late June by federal investigators appears to be aimed at determining whether the stores are linked to international terrorism, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Witnesses told the newspaper that agents of the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) raided a jewelry kiosk in the Gallery mall in Philadelphia on June 26, taking a Pakistani man into custody and questioning his coworkers about illicit cash, suspicious travel, and the al Qaeda terror network.
Within 48 hours, agents reportedly swept through more than 65 jewelry stores in Pennsylvania, Florida, California, Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina—most belonging to a chain of mall kiosks operating as Intrigue Jewelers.
Federal officials confirmed to the newspaper only that the INS did carry out an “enforcement operation” that day as part of an ongoing investigation with the FBI.
In the Philadelphia area, Intrigue operates at the Gallery in Philadelphia and at the Plymouth Meeting Mall in Montgomery County. It also has stores in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and, until recently, the Lehigh Valley Mall in Allentown. Raids have been reported at each location, most recently at Colonial Park Mall in Harrisburg.
Intrigue Jewelers kiosks are franchised by a Florida company called Gold Concept Inc. Formed in 1996, Gold Concept is headed by an Orlando businessman, Arif Rajan, who is listed by the Florida Department of State as a principal in 11 businesses, ranging from pool cleaning to petroleum.
A woman who answered the phone at Rajan’s home told the newspaper the family was “cooperating fully with the authorities” and referred all questions to Orlando attorney Phillip Calandrino, who is listed as Rajan’s partner in one venture.
Intrigue’s trouble with the FBI may have begun 11 months ago in Allentown, Pa., with the case of Ashar Iqbal Butt, a Pakistani employee of Intrigue at the Lehigh Valley Mall.
Butt was arrested Sept. 12, 2001, after a suspicious film-store clerk called 911, saying that Butt had appeared “anxious and in a hurry” to get his photos, which included 25 pictures of the World Trade Center taken at the site several days before the attacks, the newspaper reported.
Confronted at the Intrigue kiosk, Butt, 22, gave a false name to FBI agents. He has since pleaded guilty to using a false passport and is to be sentenced Sept. 12, 2002, the newspaper reported. After 10 months in custody, he has not faced any charges related to terrorism.