Sunday, August 13, 2006
On Cell Phones And Terrorism
CARO, MICH. - Three Texas men were arraigned Saturday on terrorism-related charges after police found about 1,000 cell phones in their minivan. Prosecutors say they think the men were involved in a globally coordinated plot to bring down the Mackinac Bridge.
Brothers Adham Abdelhamid Othman, 21, and Louai Abdelhamied Othman, 23, along with their cousin, Maruan Awad Muhareb, 18, were charged with identical counts of collecting material to support terrorist acts and surveillance of a vulnerable target with intent to commit terrorism.
Prosecutor Mark E. Reene wouldn't confirm what evidence led him to believe the men targeted the bridge. "All I can say is that the Mackinac Bridge is the target at issue," he said. "There's reason to be concerned."
Caro and state police arrested the trio when a graveyard shift Wal-Mart cashier became suspicious of their cash purchase of 80 cell phones. Authorities later discovered nearly 1,000 pre-paid cell phones in their van.
"All we did is buy the phones to sell and make money," Louai Abdelhamied Othman told Tuscola District Court Magistrate Joseph A. Van Auken.
The men told police they intended to buy the phones in Michigan for $20 and resell them for $38 in Texas. They said their resale business spanned several states.
"We've been stopped in North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin," said Louai Abdelhamied Othman of Mesquite, Texas. "We've been stopped in every state we've been through."
Reene said he hasn't confirmed their accounts since their arrests.
"We've been checked by the FBI before," Othman said. "They even gave us their card and everything."
Van Auken set bond at $750,000. The three have no lawyers. Both felonies carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.
"We've been totally cooperative," Othman said. "We have no reason not to show up on the court date."
Counterterrorism experts have linked previous wholesale purchases of prepaid cell phones to plots by terrorists, who may use the devices as detonators in attacks. In addition, prepaid phones make it difficult to track international calls because people don't need identification to buy them.
The arrests came three days after two men were arrested in Marietta, Ohio, where police said they aroused suspicions by buying about 600 phones in recent months in southeast Ohio.
Ali Houssaiky and Osama Abulhassan, both 20 and from Dearborn, Mich., have been charged with two felonies -- money laundering in support of terrorism and soliciting or providing support for acts of terrorism -- and misdemeanor falsification. A preliminary hearing on the felonies is set for Tuesday.
Defense lawyers said the men planned to resell the phones simply to make money and were targeted only because they are of Arab descent.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Three Texas men were arraigned Saturday on terrorism-related charges after police found about 1,000 cell phones in their minivan. Prosecutors say they think the men were involved in a globally coordinated plot to bring down the Mackinac Bridge.
Oops. The above paragraph is wrong. It should read:
Adham Abdelhamid Othman, 21, Louai Abdelhamied Othman, 25, along with their cousin, Maruan Awad Muhareb, 18, were charged with identical accounts of collecting material to support terrorist acts and surveillance of a vulnerable target with intent to commit terrorism.
Prosecutor Mark E. Reene [said], "All I can say is that the Mackinac Bridge is the target at issue here. There's reason to be concerned."
The arrests came three days after two men, [Ali Houssaiky and Osama Abdulhassan, both 20] were arrested in Marietta, Ohio, when they aroused suspicions by buying about 600 phones in recent month in southeast Ohio.
"...Their defense lawyers say they were targeted only because of their Arab descent."
Now I'm not going to judge any of the above individuals guilty until they have their day in court. But buying an inordinate amount of cell phones in a retail store in a post 9-11 world and, unfortunately for them, fitting a cultural profile (and I use that term in the loosest sense), what do you expect would happen?
If you're of Arabic descent and buying hundreds of cell phones at a time, how could you not expect to be detained and questioned by law enforcement people?
Further, anyone - any color, gender, race, or ethnicity - SHOULD be profiled or questioned if they are buying hundreds of cell phones at a time, let alone having several hundred more in their van, car or home.
Does the act of buying hundreds of cells phones at a time seem like a common purchase? Do we see that every day? I don't, do you?
Do you think two or three white men, or two white men and a woman, buying hundreds of cell phones at one time wouldn't arouse suspicion? Of course it would! Go down to Wal-Mart or Target and try it and see if your arrest isn't on the evening news tonight.
The Orthman brothers and their cousin, Muhareb, told authorities that what they are doing is their resale business and it spans several states.
Okay, that's easy enough to verify. They will have all the necessary paperwork, records, tax filings, registrations and documents to prove that their self-employed status as cell phone retailers is legitimate, right?
Anyone, of any color, gender, ethnicity - in other words all of us/any of us - buying 600 to 1,000 cell phones at a time should trigger the raising of a flag or two. If the purchase is legitimate, and I can think of many that would qualify, hey - no problem. If you can't demonstrate a legitimate reason or need for purchasing 600-1,000 cell phones, then you have some explaining to do.
Those arrested seem more like they could be straw buyers for the cell phones more than terrorists themselves.
And like I wrote, it could very well be they are not guilty of anything.
But a couple people of any description buying that many cell phones should raise a red flag, I think. I hope it would.
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