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 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.