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Hidden threat from al-Qaeda sleeper cells
From The Telegraph
Counter-terrorism police and Whitehall officials believe dozens of extremists could have arrived here by posing as students or legitimate visitors.
They are concerned both by the relatively lax checks that are made on the visitors before they arrive and by the ease with which they can outstay their visas without anyone noticing.
As many as 13,000 visa applicants may have entered the country from Pakistan in a seven month period since October last year without any checks on their supporting documentation.
The security services fear that because most do not mix with home grown terrorists, they are able to operate under the intelligence radar, acting as sleeper cells until ready to launch attacks in Britain.
But according to an official watchdog, the Independent Monitor for Entry Clearance, many visa officers do not have "enough time to go through applications carefully".
The security services are also worried about arrivals from Somalia, Yemen and North Africa.
MI5 have got 2,000 domestic extremists under surveillance across the country but is becoming increasingly concerned about the threat from abroad.
Similar concerns are felt in the police and one senior counter-terrorism officer told the Daily Telegraph: "There is a lack of control and supervision at our borders in the broadest sense.
"The problem is not confined to Pakistan, terrorists could arrive from anywhere, and we simply have no idea how many extremists may be here."
Police have discovered that the leader of an alleged plot to blow up shopping centres in Manchester last Easter ran a visa advice service in Peshawar, Pakistan.
He is thought to have helped other alleged members of his terrorist cell to arrive from Pakistan under the cover of student visas.
A police source added: "The arrests in Manchester were a good example of the problem and afterwards we had a lot of discussions within government. We are now relying on the UK Border Agency to sort the problem out.
"Part of the problem seems to be that foreign students generate a huge amount of money and there is not a lot of incentive to do proper checks."
Providing courses for foreign students has become a multimillion pound business but the Home Affairs Select Committee said in July that "tens of thousands" of illegal immigrants could have entered Britain using visas obtained through bogus colleges.
It said there could be up to 2,200 colleges that were not legitimate but were accredited by the Government under a system operating until March this year.
It noted there was "no adequate provision" for tracking down those that had arrived illegally and overstayed their visas.
One of the bodies responsible for checking the colleges, the Accreditation Service for International Colleges, based at a semi-detached house in a village near Middlesbrough, has itself been criticised by a body representing British universities, Universities UK.
A leaked report for the Border Agency warned that immigrants were arriving with false bank accounts, letters of introduction from non-existent British companies and pretending to be tourists when they had left their wives and children at home.
Last night, the Border and Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said: "The UK’s borders are stronger than ever before".
I don't believe you, Woolyass.