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Airports alerted to 5 men sought by FBI

Clockwise from top left: Iftikhar Khozmai Ali, Abid Noraiz Ali, Akbar Jamal, Mustafa Khan Owasi, Adil Pervez.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Five men the FBI wants for questioning have been placed on a "no-fly" list advising airlines and airports not to allow them aboard aircraft, the head of the Transportation Security Administration said Monday.

With New Year's celebrations planned across the country, the FBI and its 18,000 state and local law enforcement partners have made finding the men a priority.

The FBI said the men may have entered the United States illegally from Canada on or about December 24.

Law enforcement sources said the search was considered "very serious," in part because of recent attacks overseas, a high level of "chatter" among intelligence sources, and the prospect of a U.S. war with Iraq.

The FBI was alerted to the men in the course of a separate investigation into a Pakistani smuggling ring that provided people with fake visas and passports, the sources said.

The sources said the five men received British passports and their intent was to enter the United States. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said the government had no record that any had applied for a U.S. visa.

The FBI identified the men as Abid Noraiz Ali, 25; Iftikhar Khozmai Ali, 21; Mustafa Khan Owasi, 33; Adil Pervez, 19; Akbar Jamal, 28. An FBI statement urging the public to be on the lookout for them said the names and ages may be fictitious.

"Those names are now part of the no-fly list that we would be very attentive to if any individuals would come to any airport in the country," Adm. James Loy, head of the TSA, told reporters.

"We are as alert to those five visages, pictures, and names or modifications of those names, as we can possibly be."

The sources said the FBI had no evidence the men actually entered the United States, nor were authorities sure of their nationalities, although they were believed to be Pakistani.

The FBI posted photographs of the men on its Web site with the captions "Seeking Information" and "War on Terrorism" and sent information to 18,000 local and state law enforcement agencies.

Besides notifying the White House, the bureau also alerted New York Gov. George Pataki. At a Monday news conference, however, New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said there was "no particular reason to believe" the men were in the city.

Federal authorities had no specific information connecting the men with terrorist activities, said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. Neither were they known to have criminal records, sources said.

That did little to reassure investigators, however, who noted the September 11 suicide hijackers had similarly clean records.

"Any time we have five individuals like this who enter the country illegally, we want to know why they are here. We want to question them," McClellan said. "That's why the FBI enlisted the help of the public."

"The FBI is after these guys because they know something or they are trying to scare them," said Paul Bremer, a member of President Bush's Homeland Security Advisory Council and ambassador at large for counterterrorism in the Reagan administration.

"They [might have] lost track. [They] can be trying to disrupt an operation. [They] could have a number of purposes at once," said Bremer, who heads Marsh Crisis Consulting, a global firm specializing in risk management.

Anyone with any information about the five is asked to contact their nearest FBI office.

CNN's Kelli Arena, Beth Lewandowski and Elise Labott contributed to this report.

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