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Update on Arrests in Michigan

August 14, 2006 10:25 AM

Prosecutors in Michigan believe that the three men arrested last week in Caro were plotting to blow up the Mackinac Bridge.  They have been charged with collecting material to support terrorist acts and surveillance of a vulnerable target with intent to commit terrorism. 

The Mackinac Bridge

The three men, however, contend that they were simply purchasing TracFones in Michigan for $20 each, because they could resell them in Texas for $38 each.  We find it hard to believe that, in the days of Ebay, any readily available item would cost 90% more in Texas than it does in Michigan.  Especially when anyone can order a TracFone for $19.97 from Wal-Mart's website.

But even if these folks are right about the resale value of the TracFones in Texas, we still wonder about the economics.  They were from Dallas, and were arrested in Caro, Michigan.  They told police that they'd "been stopped in North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin"--so they did not take a direct route.  And yes, 90% is a great return.  But between the labor (3 adults), the fact that many places limit purchases to 2 or 3 per customer, and the price of gas, it is hard to see how this is an enterprise that pays.  At the very least, it is hardly a model of efficiency, expecially when getting stopped by the authorities 5 times is contributing to overhead and downtime. 

We are also intrigued by the fact they have also been charged with "surveillance of a vulnerable target with intent to commit terrorism."  Prosecutors have declined to eleborate on what facts they have that support this charge.  But they've have told us they believe the target was the Mackinac Bridge--and that's a 4 hour drive from Caro, Michigan.  So had they already been up to the bridge, or not?  Why would anyone on a legitimate business trip to purchase tracfones for resale go as far north as Mackinac?

UPDATE:  Debbieschlussel.com reports that confidential law enforcement sources (and in Debbie's case, that means "numerous" and "well-connected") have informed her that the men are believed to have ties to a group called Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and that law enforcement officials observed two or more individuals videotaping the Mackinac Bridge.

UPDATE NO. 2:  Local news reports in Central Lower Michigan have more details.  Apparently before they were arrested in Caro (which is 90 miles north of Detroit), the men purchased 90 tracFones at a Wal-Mart in Gaylord.  Gaylord is an hour south of the Bridge.  Because they were also detained in Wisconsin, this makes us think they must have taken the northern route over the U.P., which would mean they crossed Mackinac Bridge.

We also have more details about what was going on at the time of the arrest, as well as the particulars on the make and model of the phones:

One man was driving while the other two were in the back opening the phone packages with box cutters throwing the phones in one box, batteries in another and the packaging and phone charger in another container. The suspects had 1000 other cell phones in the van.

The phones were Nokia TracFones selling for $20 at Wal-Mart. For your twenty dollars you receive a phone charger and 40 minutes of airtime. The phones do not have to be registered with a name. Also discovered was a laptop with store addresses and store logos.

Again, the U.P. is no place to go if you are searching for population centers and lots of Wal-Marts.

The FBI continues to insist that there is no reason to be concerned.

Comments

"One man was driving while the other two were in the back opening the phone packages with box cutters throwing the phones in one box, batteries in another and the packaging and phone charger in another container."

I'd think that would cut down considerably on the resale value, wouldn't you?

Dr. Mabuse   ·  August 14, 2006 05:28 PM

Well, one would think it would cut down on the resale value. But, you see, they've discovered this secret market where they can get a 90% return. It's a special, no packaging, no batteries, and no phone charger kind of market.

NBS   ·  August 14, 2006 11:24 PM

How about the most recent update Mr. Hysterical?

FBI: No terror groups in cell phone case

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/nation/4116889.html

The FBI said Monday it had no information to indicate that the three Texas men arrested with about 1,000 cell phones in their van had any direct connection to known terrorist groups. Also, a prosecutor in a separate Ohio case said he can't prove a terrorism link to two men arrested after buying large numbers of cell phones and will drop terrorism charges against them.

Another case of racial profiling gone wild.

Adham Abdelhamid Othman, 21, of Dallas, and Maruan Awad Muhareb, 18, and Louai Abdelhamied Othman, 23, both of Mesquite, Texas, were stopped by police Friday outside a Wal-Mart store in Caro, about 80 miles north of Detroit after employees became suspicious when they purchased about 80 cell phones.

Local prosecutors charged them with collecting or providing materials for terrorist acts and surveillance of a vulnerable target for terrorist purposes. The men told a magistrate Saturday that they were buying the phones for resale.

In Ohio:

....Authorities stopped the men on a traffic violation in Marietta, Ohio, on Aug. 8 and said they found airplane passenger lists and information on airport security checkpoints, along with $11,000 cash and 12 phones, in their car.

... The District Attorney said the government had no evidence the phones were being used illegally and the men planned to resell the phones simply to make money. They also said the airport and airplane information were old papers left in the car by a relative who worked at an airport.

More on the FBI release:

The FBI issued a news release Monday saying there is no imminent threat to the bridge linking Michigan's upper and lower peninsulas. The release also said the FBI had no information indicating that the men, Palestinian-Americans living in Texas, had any direct links to any known terrorist groups or to the alleged plot to bomb trans-Atlantic jetliners that was announced in London last week.

Another Emily Litella "never mind" moment. Except for the traumatized kids whose reputations were smeared on national tv and in their home towns.

There was NBO specific information on Yea but like the FBI determined -- WHEN THE LEFT AND NEVER RETURNED after the first two hour interview -- the sheriff deputies where nothing more than a bunch of racist bumblers. there was a pamphlet from a seminar handed out to the guys mother who works in airport as a gate agent. There were no passenger lists. there was a simple check off list like tens of thousands probably floating around in airport works vehicles. not a thing suspicious in fact.

$11,000 is what you would need to do this deal. after gas, taxes expenses you would end up netting about 7k or $3,400 a piece for two weeks work.

Ok, but who is buying them and why?

the cards are sold at gas stations, newstands and on ebay. you can find them listed by the hundreds right now,. the 300 plus card that came with this deal is worth about $28. the phone battery is worth about $8. the charger isn't worth much.

Also
1) these Phones were not being used as detonators. the calling cards were removed for resale. once removed minutes can be transferred to existing cellphones, but the phone can never be activated with out the original card the first time. if you've ever been to the Detroit area you would know that most convenience stores are owned by people of Arab descent, many of them Maronite Christians. Yes, there are Arab Christians!!

2) the bridge they took the picture on is one of the most photographed in the world. everyone who visits there takes a picture!

A touch Of Gray   ·  August 15, 2006 02:15 PM

A Touch of Gray--
Your comment is too rambling and incoherent for us to respond to with specificity, but we can tell the general point is that you want to gloat that some of the charges against the various cell phone purchasers have been dismissed. Feel free to take delight in that, if it makes you feel better, but please know that dismissed charges do NOT mean that the suspects are not guilty. Nor does it mean that the charges cannot or will not be brought.
Thanks for reading and commenting, though. The rage reconfirms that we are doing our job here at NBS.

NBS   ·  August 15, 2006 03:32 PM

I have to ask, did you bother to read the article he/she linked NBS, or any other follow up news stories? It's pretty clear that these weren't terrorists. Had they been, in this post 9/11 world, the FBI would have held them for weeks while investigating. The fact that after a two hour interview the FBI left and said that they were not involved in terror says it all. You are being a tad bit hysterical over this. I would advise you to stop getting 100% of your news from the likes of Fox or worse, from Malkin, Limbaugh et al, they are the very definition of reactionary and hysterical. all of the terrorism scares in the world aren't going to keep the republicans in power, they have got to get their act together and come up with some other agenda because they are not going to pull the wool over America's eyes again.

JB

Jimmy Behr   ·  August 15, 2006 09:49 PM