Detroit Free Press
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
CARO, Mich., Aug. 14 -- Terrorism 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 to commit criminal acts.
Ohio authorities dropped felony charges against two Dearborn, Mich., men arrested last week after they acknowledged buying about 600 phones in recent months.
Osama Sobhi Abulhassan and Ali Houssaiky had been charged in Marietta, Ohio, with soliciting or providing for an act of terrorism and with money laundering. But a county prosecutor said there was not enough evidence to go forward with those charges.
Washington County Prosecutor James Schneider said his office would continue to press a misdemeanor charge of lying to police.
Meanwhile, Michigan officials kept three Texans locked up 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 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 with about 1,000 cellphones in their van.
Local prosecutors charged them with collecting or providing materials for terrorist acts and surveillance of a vulnerable target for terrorist purposes.
The FBI questioned them for several hours after their arrest, then released a statement saying that "there is no imminent threat" to the bridge, which links Michigan's Upper and Lower peninsulas.
State Police Director Col. Peter Munoz said Monday that the men "may have been involved in some other fraudulent activities, but there is no nexus to terrorism or a terrorist threat."
Authorities in both states feared the cell phones could be used in terrorism attacks -- such phones were used in 2004 to detonate terrorist bombs in Madrid. But relatives and friends of the men called them innocent entrepreneurs buying cheap phones for marked-up resale. They were targeted, supporters said, because of their Arab heritage.
"I hope this is a good lesson for local police not to spread fear and paranoia," Imad Hamad, regional director of the American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee, said of the Michigan arrests. "I'm grateful that federal authorities provided such a clarification."