View Full Version : More 'terror cases' collapse in the US

08-15-2006, 01:31 PM
(Partridge: In reference to the second 'case' - I guess it must be nigh on impossible for a dark-skinned person to make a living as a photographer in the USA these days)

Terror charges tied to phones are crumbling
Detroit Free Press (http://www.rawstory.com/showarticle.php?src=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.freep.com%2Fa pps%2Fpbcs.dll%2Farticle%3FAID%3D%2F20060815%2FNEW S04%2F608150394%26template%3Dprintart)

Terror charges against two groups of Arab Americans arrested with hundreds of prepaid cell phones teetered in Michigan and collapsed in Ohio on Monday as authorities said they lacked evidence that the men intended to use the phones for evil.Ohio authorities dropped charges against two Dearborn men arrested last week with hundreds of the disposable phones.

Meanwhile, officials in Tuscola County, in Michigan's Thumb, kept three Texans locked up Monday evening even after Michigan State Police and FBI officials said they were apparently wide-eyed tourists rather than would-be terrorists when they photographed the Mackinac Bridge.

The FBI -- which questioned the Texans, who are of Palestinian heritage, for several hours over the weekend after their arrest -- said Monday that "there is no imminent threat" to the iconic bridge linking Michigan's Upper and Lower peninsulas.

While local authorities in Michigan and Ohio feared the cell phones could be used in terrorism attacks -- they've been used to detonate bombs in Europe, the Middle East and Asia -- the men's relatives and friends said the men are innocent entrepreneurs buying cheap phones for marked-up resales. They were targeted, supporters said, because of their Arab heritage.

"I applaud the FBI and state in standing up for justice and goodwill," said Nabih Ayad, a Dearborn attorney who represents the three men.

But he expressed concern that the men were targeted because of their ethnicity.

"People immediately jumped to conclusions because they're of Middle Eastern descent," he said.

In Ohio, Osama Sobhi Abulhassan, 20, and Ali Houssaiky, 20 -- a former star running back at Fordson High School in Dearborn -- had been charged in Marietta with soliciting or providing for an act of terrorism, money laundering and a misdemeanor charge of lying to police.

But Monday afternoon, Washington County Prosecutor James Schneider said that there was not enough evidence to prosecute them.

Schneider said his office will continue to press the misdemeanor charge.

The men will most likely be released today after a court hearing, and will face a court date probably next month, Schneider said.

Schneider said the investigation will continue. There had been concerns that the men may have planned to target airplanes, he said.

The Ohio case started last Tuesday when Houssaiky and Abulhassan were pulled over for a minor traffic violation in Marietta, near the West Virginia border.

Moments earlier, a suspicious store clerk had called police after the pair bought a large number of cell phones.

Searching their vehicle, police said they found a private security guide for Royal Jordanian Airlines. But the family said the guide was there because Houssaiky's mother worked in the airline industry.

Federal investigators have been concerned about suspicious people buying large numbers of cell phones, which have been used in terrorist acts before, including the attacks in Madrid, Spain, in 2004.

The Michigan charges were still in place late Monday, even as other law enforcement officials discounted ties to terrorism.

"There is no information to indicate that the individuals arrested had any nexus to terrorism," Detroit FBI chief Daniel Roberts said in a prepared statement.

The Texans were arrested Friday after making bulk buys of the cell phones and were charged with terror-related felonies when investigators found pictures of the Mackinac Bridge, along with more than 1,000 phones, in their minivan.

The men -- brothers Adham Othman, 21, of Dallas and Louai Othman, 23, of Mesquite, and their cousin Awad Muhareb, 18, of Mesquite -- were stopped by police Friday outside a Wal-Mart store in Caro. They were charged with gathering material relating to terrorism and surveillance of a vulnerable target -- apparently the bridge -- felonies with a 20-year maximum penalty.

State Police Director Col. Peter Munoz said Monday that investigators determined that the three men were not plotting to blow up the Mackinac Bridge, or any other Michigan landmarks.

"They may have been involved in some other fraudulent activities, but there is no nexus to terrorism or a terrorist threat," Munoz said.

Munoz said that their photographs of the bridge were tourist photos and not the result of staking out the bridge as a target.

He said the men traveled to Michigan via Wisconsin and crossed the bridge from the Upper Peninsula. He said that like many tourists who see the Mackinac Bridge for the first time, they were impressed enough to take pictures.

"Contrary to what they say, not everything in Texas is the biggest," Munoz joked. "The photos did not support somebody conducting an attack of the bridge."

Eric Straus, chief of the U.S. Attorney's counter-terror unit in Detroit said the Caro case will continue to be monitored.

Arab Americans, Muslims and defense attorneys welcomed the dropping of charges, but some feared the men's reputations have been unfairly tarnished.

"We're grateful that the Washington County Prosecutor's Office viewed this with an open mind, and has been willing to reconsider its initial decision," said Bill Swor, an attorney for Houssaiky.

"It was a knee-jerk reaction that these young men could be terrorists simply because of their religion and ethnicity," said Dawud Walid, head of the Michigan branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "But the damage has been done," to these men's reputations, he added.

"I would hope a small amount of effort be shown by government officials as well as the media to stress that these men are innocent."