Prepaid Cell Phone Sales Lead to Terrorist Charges

Discussion
Aug 14, 2006
George Anderson

By George Anderson


Three men from Texas have been arrested on terrorism related charges after having been found with about 1,000 prepaid cell phones in their minivan. The men were pulled over in Caro, Michigan after having purchased 80 phones from a nearby Wal-Mart.


The three men, Louai Abdelhamied Othman of Mesquite, Adham Abdelhamid Othman of Dallas and Maruan Awad Muhareb of Mesquite have been charged with collecting or providing materials for terrorist acts and surveillance of a vulnerable target for terrorist purposes.


Terrorists have used cell phones to detonate bombs in the past. Authorities say the particular type of phone bought by the men, TracFones, are impossible to trace.


The men maintain their innocence.


“All we did is buy the phones to sell and make money,” Louai Othman told the court. He said this was not the first time the men had been stopped while buying prepaid cell phones. According to Mr. Othman, they had been stopped in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin while on their shopping trip.


Mr. Muhareb said, “This is a misunderstanding.” He claims he was selling phones to earn money to help pay for his brother to go to college.


Lina Odeh, wife of one of the men, believes they were arrested because they are of Arab descent.


The arrests of the three men came days after two men from Michigan were arrested in Ohio after buying about 600 phones from stores in that state.


Ali Houssaiky and Osama Abulhassan have been charged with money laundering in support of terrorism and soliciting or providing support for acts of terrorism. Lawyers for the two men said they bought the phones to resell at a profit and were only charged because they too are of Arab descent.


Discussion Questions: Do sales of products that may be used in terrorist acts need to be restricted in some manner? What are your thoughts on the issue
as it relates to a retailer’s responsibility, even if restrictions are not mandated?

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12 Comments on "Prepaid Cell Phone Sales Lead to Terrorist Charges"


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Jeff Weitzman
Guest
Jeff Weitzman
14 years 6 months ago

This is indeed part of a much larger question about liberty and what we are willing to give up in the name of feeling “safer.” We will need to constantly question the need for more restrictions, and be careful that we are not on the slippery slope to fascism. We should all be as suspicious of a politician invoking fear of terror as we are of the terrorist.

That does not mean there are no good restrictions or reasonable accommodations to a new reality. It is reasonable to report unusual purchases like 80 cellphones. It is up to the authorities to combine that information with other sources and decide if further action is needed. That’s a far cry from requiring that *every* prepaid cellphone purchase be reported. We can use reasonable judgment to decide what limits to place on our freedom, as long as we exercise our freedom to say “no” when necessary.

Dennis Serbu
Guest
Dennis Serbu
14 years 6 months ago

The purchase of 80 pre-paid cell phones for “resale” wouldn’t qualify the individuals in question as a legitimate reseller. Why would they not purchase directly from a manufacturer or wholesaler? I suspect the issue is anonymity, and a nefarious purpose.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
14 years 6 months ago

The answer to this is ( )absolutely yes ( )absolutely not (X)both of the above.

While it’s difficult to comment intelligently on a situation w/o knowing all of the facts, nothing I’ve yet heard about this case inspires me with any confidence.

Laura Davis-Taylor
Guest
Laura Davis-Taylor
14 years 6 months ago

I have a close friend that is very high up at Homeland Security. Without divulging too much, he has made me aware of the fact that authorities are indeed policing individuals that raise red flags via suspect purchases, conversations, local cameras, e-mail, etc. I can say that these men would not have been arrested if there were not other incidents behind their behavior.

No, not everyone agrees that this is policing is in line with our personal freedom. However, I for one feel better that this is happening, as if it prevents something as horrific as 9-11 from repeating itself, it’s worth losing some degree of privacy. Having flown last Friday amidst a nerve wracking screening process, it makes me feel better that such precautions are being taken.

Michael Tesler
Guest
Michael Tesler
14 years 6 months ago

I believe it is in all our interests to restrict the sale of guns and to require identification and some registration/accountability for all those who are qualified to buy guns. I have no problem with similar restrictions on other types products and purchases that could potentially endanger others. If you are not a criminal and your reasons for purchase are lawful….what’s the problem?

Zel Bianco
Guest
14 years 6 months ago

Most certainly yes. If someone tried to buy 100 box cutters, wouldn’t they, shouldn’t they be questioned? Perhaps they are buying box cutters to re-sell out of the back of the truck to tradesmen. Who knows? Unfortunately, we are going to have to deal with an ever changing list of items that are seemingly harmless one week, and potentially dangerous the next. Retailers will need to be nimble and flexible enough to not have the next group of products that are questionable be a major issue on the margins.

Kenneth A. Grady
Guest
Kenneth A. Grady
14 years 6 months ago
This is a challenging question in many ways and similar to the question raised about the sale of items that can be used in the drug trade. There are some products, relatively few, that have few obvious uses beyond the specific use for which they were designed and illegitimate uses. For example, buying one ton of fertilizer when the purchaser does not have a farm and is not buying for use on a farm raises questions. Buying products that do have legitimate uses raises more troubling questions. While the story told by the individuals arrested (they were buying the phones to resell to earn money) may end up not being correct there is nothing based on the information provided that is inherently implausible about it. A problem with the regulatory proposal is knowing where to draw the line. For example, VoIP phones are more difficult to connect to a specific user. Should they be banned because they could be used in criminal activities? Ultimately, I believe it is too difficult to draw the line on… Read more »
Bernice Hurst
Guest
14 years 6 months ago
This is a dangerously political question which goes far beyond legislating against the sale of certain items by and to whom. Profiling, exchange of liberty for security, compromise and adjusting to new realities may become facts of life but it seems that anything can be used for any purpose if the villains are sufficiently determined. Whereabouts will it stop? Time to go back to the Stone Age? I use a prepaid phone because I so rarely use it that paying rental would be a total waste of money. I do not send text messages and predominantly use either my landline for calls or Skype for transatlantic communications. Being innocent, naive and law-abiding, I have no idea how OTC drugs can be turned into addictive substances. We were told, over here at least, that chip and pin cards would decrease the rate of fraud and identity theft; not so. We are being told that the same will be true of ID cards; a huge number of people don’t believe this either. Fewer people trust their governments… Read more »
Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 6 months ago

If all terrorists eat vegetables, should all vegetable customers be tracked? The root cause of terrorism isn’t being reasonably addressed (If it was, wouldn’t the threat decline?) and American intelligence agencies don’t have the confidence of (much of) the public. So alarms over cell phones, internet sites, ID cards, etc. will continue. It’s understandable to license and track explosives buyers. Should we track everything else? Some people can kill with their bare hands. What should be done about that possibility?

Ian Percy
Guest
14 years 6 months ago
This is one of those ‘do you still beat your wife?’ questions. Of course we want to do all we can to thwart terrorism of any sort. But this ‘knee-jerk’ strategy we seem to employ is just not well thought through and maybe not even not thought about at all. For example passengers not being able to take a book onto an airplane in the UK. Now I do know some lethal books where being forced to read them would be frightening indeed but I don’t think that was the rationale. A nursing friend of mine once said: “Policies are just scar tissue over an error.” One person does one stupid or evil thing and suddenly we try to control and limit every one else on the assumption that if one of us behaves that way we all will. If a bad person took off his long sleeve shirt on the plane and suddenly wrapped the sleeves around the neck of a flight attendant threatening him or her – we’d have a ban on long… Read more »
Bernie Slome
Guest
Bernie Slome
14 years 6 months ago

Are the pre-paid cell phones a “not for re-sale” item? If they are, then the Wal-Mart or whoever sold the phones has a responsibility. I understand the analogy of “if all terrorists eat vegetables, should we track all people who buy vegetables?” But maybe this is different. Much the same as banks reporting all cash deposits over $9000. Should retailers be required to report large purchases of ammonium nitrate? If so, why not large purchases of other potential terrorist tools? We need to be proactive, vigilant yet at the same time protect the rights of American citizens. A difficult balancing act. Our Homeland Security Agency must think outside the box. They must throw out any preconcieved ideas. Terrorists have no rules. I guess in this case, yes…Wal-Mart or any other retailer should report such a large, out of the ordinary sale.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
14 years 6 months ago

Many products can be used in the process of creating dangerous substances that can be used for terrorist activities. Banning them all or investigating the sale of each one seems ludicrous. I am about to go through security and hope I’ve found each tube of hand lotion and toothpaste that could create a hassle!! People purchasing large amounts of products certainly arouse suspicion and should be questioned. Monitoring each individual sale seems to be more than might be possible or necessary.

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