How could an accused school shooter charged with murder get an international passport? Analysts say the latest twist in the Hammad Memon saga has exposed a dangerous loophole with implications that go well beyond the case.
Investigators say Memon's mother was able to have a Pakistani passport for her son delivered in the mail last week, despite the outstanding murder charge against him. But the Pakistani Embassy in Washington D.C. told WHNT News 19 they had no idea that Memon was a murder suspect since they and other foreign embassies have no access to U.S. law enforcement databases.
That means there's no way for foreign embassies to know whether dual citizens like Memon have a criminal record unless a judge or law enforcement agency submits a name to an embassy's watch list. Pakistani Embassy officials said they received no information from any judge or agency involved in the Memon case. The teen's passport was seized when he and his mother were arrested at a Dallas bus station last Friday, hours after a nationwide bulletin was issued.
The Madison Police Department and Madison County District Attorney's Office both said they did not know about the foreign passport loophole. Judge Lynn Sherrod approved Memon's $75,000 bond back in 2010 after seizing his U.S. passport, and declined to comment on the latest developments. One national security analyst who spoke with WHNT News 19 said the loophole was a glaring security flaw that could be manipulated by terrorists.
"I think that this is so shocking, that authorities around the country would have to do something to close this loophole," said Ryan Mauro, a senior analyst for RadicalIslam.org who called the loophole a serious national security threat. "It's simply shocking to think that someone who was involved in a school shooting could potentially almost flee the country. I think it's very likely that this story has exposed a nationwide problem."
According to the Pakistani Embassy, Hammad Memon's fresh passport was obtained after Safia Memon endorsed her son's name on her own new passport. It only required two signed forms along with a photograph, national I.D. card and $46. An embassy spokesman confirmed that both Memon and his parents were natives of Pakistan.
Assistant District Attorney Tim Gann is prosecuting the case, and said the passport loophole was an issue covered by the presiding judge.
"I can tell you for a fact that nobody in the District Attorney's office dropped the ball," said Gann.
Madison Police Department spokesman Lt. Terrell Cook also said the loophole was an issue outside his agency's realm.
"The judge ordered the surrender of the first passport, so I would assume that that would be a function of the court," said Cook.
Mauro told WHNT News 19 that the foreign passport issue has potential ramifications much bigger than the Memon case, particularly regarding terrorism.
"Quite frankly, it's a miracle that this security loophole hasn't been exploited to deadly effect in the past," said Mauro. "I guarantee there's lots of law enforcement officials across the country that have no idea this loophole exists...This is a loophole that should have been thought about previously, and it just shows that there has been a lack of imagination and a lack of brainstorming about how criminals and murderers can get around the law. You better believe terrorists are also going to try and exploit it."
Memon is charged with killing classmate Todd Brown at Discovery Middle School in February of 2010. Authorities said Memon walked up behind Brown during a class change and shot him point blank in the back of the head.