South Africa on Thursday suspended dozens of officials being investigated for giving citizenship to mainly Pakistani foreigners, nearly a year after Britain warned that corrupt officials were handing out false South African passports.
Britain started requiring visas from South Africans in February, charging terrorists and criminals were exploiting the availability of stolen or forged South African passports to gain access to other countries.
"The fraudulent registration of births of foreigners constitutes a serious threat to the national security of our country," South African Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma said in a statement Thursday.
She said the scheme allowed "fraudsters" to apply for South African passports that could be used for "nefarious activities abroad."
She said South African investigations would ensure all those implicated "face the full might of the law."
South Africa said nearly a year ago that steps had been taken to prevent corrupt officials from issuing bogus passports.
Home Affairs spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa said Thursday that 59 officials have been suspended in the past two weeks for issuing South African birth certificates to foreigners. He said it is not clear how many such certificates have been issued nor whether any have been used to get real South African passports.
He said most recipients were adults from Pakistan and that it appeared to be the work of "criminal syndicates."
British security and intelligence officials started warning last year of an increasing risk of Islamic extremists using South Africa as a transit point and venue to plot.
They said future attacks on Britain could be directed from countries other than Pakistan _ where dozens of Britons with family ties have traveled for terrorist training or have been linked to recent terror plots.
Prosecutors in the London trial of several men accused of plotting to blow up at least seven trans-Atlantic commercial flights said last year that one suspect had flown into Britain from South Africa to lead the final stages of the plan.
Pakistan is a major hub for militant organizations, and a number of extremist plots targeting the West have been traced to its tribal regions that border Afghanistan.
It is also a poor country with a sluggish economy that has many nationals eager to work abroad and send money back to families at home.
Like others in the Muslim world, Pakistani passport holders have had greater difficulty getting visas to travel to Europe and the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.
Associated Press Writer Nahal Toosi in Islamabad contributed to this report.