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Published: Monday, 8/14/2006

No terror charges slated for 2 with cell phones in Ohio

ASSOCIATED PRESS

MARIETTA, Ohio A southeast Ohio prosecutor said today he can t prove a terrorism link to two men arrested after they bought large numbers of cell phones and will drop terrorism charges against them.

Washington County Prosecutor James Schneider said he didn t have enough evidence to present the felony terrorism charges to a grand jury. He said in a news release he needed more information to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

The charges will be dropped at a hearing Tuesday in Marietta Municipal Court and a $200,000 bond reduced to $1,000 each, Schneider said in a phone interview.

At this time we didn t see a link that we could prove, Schneider said, adding he was referring to both terrorism in general and any specific group.

But Schneider said the investigation is open and he could still present evidence to a grand jury to pursue terrorism-related charges.

The two men are still charged with a misdemeanor count of falsification accusing them of lying about why they bought the phones, Schneider said.

Schneider said his office and federal authorities don t believe the defendants pose an imminent threat at this time.

An attorney for one of the men welcomed the announcement.

We re grateful the Washington County Prosecutor s Office has been willing to keep an open mind and look at all the evidence and make their decisions based on the evidence, said William Swor, a Michigan lawyer representing Ali Houssaiky of Dearborn, Mich.

Houssaiky and Osama Sabhi Abulhassan, also of Dearborn, had been preliminarily charged by the sheriff with money laundering in support of terrorism and soliciting or providing support for acts of terrorism.

Sheriff s deputies stopped the men on a traffic violation Aug. 8 and found 12 cell phones, $11,000 cash and airplane passenger lists and information on airport security checkpoints in their car.

The phones had been purchased at a Marietta Wal-Mart and Radio Shack.

Prosecutors have not provided details about the passenger lists or their significance. Defense lawyers have said the flight information consisted of old papers left in the car by a relative who worked at an airport.

The two acknowledged buying about 600 phones in recent months at stores in southeast Ohio. Investigators said they sold the phones to someone in Dearborn, a Detroit suburb.

Investigators going through the car after the pair were pulled over in Marietta also found a map that showed locations of Wal-Mart stores from Ohio through Kentucky, Tennessee and into North and South Carolina.

The falsification charge alleges the men initially gave deputies different names than appeared on their IDs. They also said the money was for buying phones for a relative s construction business, then changed their story when deputies asked for contact information, Schneider said.

The FBI is reviewing the Ohio case and staying in touch with local authorities. No federal charges are pending, said special agent Mike Brooks of the FBI.

The FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security sent out joint bulletins in February and March to police departments nationwide warning about the bulk purchase of prepaid TracFones for personal profit or financing terrorism, according to Brooks and Susan Raber, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Homeland Security.

In a separate case, the FBI said today it had no information to indicate that the three Texas men arrested Friday in Caro, Mich., with about 1,000 cell phones in their van had any direct connection to known terrorist groups.

Michigan authorities had increased patrols on the 5-mile-long Mackinac Bridge after local prosecutors said investigators believed the men were targeting the span.

The FBI issued a news release today saying there is no imminent threat to the bridge linking Michigan s upper and lower peninsulas.

Local authorities didn t say what they believed the men intended to do with the phones, most of which were TracFones, but the police chief in Caro, about 80 miles north of Detroit, noted that cell phones can be untraceable and used as detonators.

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 announced in London last week.

Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com



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