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Terror case coming apart
The Saginaw News
August 15, 2006

Three Texas men of Middle Eastern descent remained jailed this morning on terrorism-related charges in Tuscola County after federal officials said Monday the trio broke no laws and had no links to known terrorist organizations.

Tuscola County Prosecutor Mark E. Reene did not respond to repeated messages from The Saginaw News.

A jail guard said the trio -- brothers Adham A. Othman, 21, of Dallas and Louai A. Othman, 23, of Mesquite, Texas, and their cousin, Maruan A. Muhareb, 18, also of Mesquite -- remained behind bars waiting for a Friday pretrial hearing on state charges of collecting material to support terrorist acts and surveillance of a vulnerable target, the Mackinac Bridge, with intent to commit terrorism.

Nabih H. Ayad, a suburban Detroit defense attorney representing the Texas men, said that based on Monday's statements by the FBI, he planned to file an emergency motion today for his clients' release on bond.

He said the photos of the Mackinac Bridge were innocent tourist snapshots taken while the men were stuck in traffic.

"That's what people do when you see a tourist attraction: They take pictures," he said.

Federal authorities have not pursued charges against the men Reene has accused of taking part in a global plot to destroy the Mackinac Bridge. Police said the men had 1,000 cell phones.

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.

William Kowalski, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI's Detroit field office, said the men did nothing illegal when they bought cell phones in bulk, but he added that profit from that kind of activity sometimes is suspicious.

In a statement Monday, Reene said representatives of his office and Caro police met Sunday to discuss the case with officials from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. attorney's office. He said all the agencies were working together on the investigation.

Kowalski emphasized that there is no argument between the FBI and Reene's office.

Authorities in Caro have not said what they believe the men intended to do with the phones. But Caro Police Chief Benson B. Page said individuals can use cell phones as detonators, and prosecutors in a similar case in Ohio have said that terrorists often use TracFones because they are not traceable.

The FBI also disputed claims of threats to the Mackinac Bridge, and Michigan State Police Director Col. Peter Munoz, who heads the state's homeland security efforts, said Monday there was no indication the men were plotting to blow up the Mackinac Bridge "or target any other location in Michigan or elsewhere."

Reene said the men had images of the 5-mile span on a digital camera. He did not indicate if the camera contained pictures of any other landmarks or scenery.

The U.S. Coast Guard increased patrols near the bridge in response to the arrests.

District Court Magistrate Joseph A. Van Auken imposed $750,000 bond on each of the men when he arraigned them Saturday.

Caro police arrested the trio Friday after a clerk at the Wal-Mart reported that they had purchased 80 prepaid cellular telephones. Officers seized about 1,000 prepaid cell phones from the men's van.

Louai Othman's wife, Lina Odeh, told The Associated Press on Saturday that she thought police targeted her husband and relatives because of their Middle Eastern descent. She said the men's families come from Jerusalem.

The men told police they intended to resell the phones in Texas for $38 each. They paid $20 per phone.

They said their resale business spanned several states, including North and South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Their hearing is set for 8:45 a.m. Friday in District Judge Kim D. Glaspie's courtroom.

In a similar case in Ohio, Prosecutor James Schneider said he didn't have enough evidence to present felony terrorism charges for Ali Houssaiky and Osama Abulhassan, both of Dearborn, to a grand jury.

Police 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 in their car along with $11,000 cash and 12 phones.

Abulhassan and Houssaiky admitted buying about 600 phones in recent months at Wal-Mart and Radio Shack stores in southeast Ohio and selling them to someone in Dearborn.

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.

Defense attorneys said the government had no evidence the phones were used illegally and that the men planned to resell the phones 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.

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

Federal officials also have not pursued charges in the Ohio case.

Schneider on Monday said he would drop terrorism charges against the two when they appeared in Marietta Municipal Court today. He also said he would reduce their bail to $1,000 each, down from $200,000 each, but that he would keep the case open, leaving him the option of pursuing terrorism-related charges at a later date. v

Dean Bohn is a staff writer for The Saginaw News. You may reach him at 776-9679. Saginaw News Staff Writer LaNia Coleman contributed to this report.

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