Federal authorities helped with the investigation into a possible terror threat to the Mackinac Bridge. The FBI office in Detroit worked with local law enforcement authorities before the police arrested three men in Caro on Friday. Officers found about 1,000 pre-paid cell phones in their van. Police in Caro arrested the three Palestinian-American men after they allegedly bought 80 of the phones at a Wal-Mart store in Caro.
A pre-paid cell phone can be economical and convenient. But, 22 year old Adham Othman, 23 year old Louai Othman, and 19 year old Maruwan Muhareb aroused suspicion when they allegedly bought 80 phones at the same time. Caro Police Chief Ben Page said they thought “something was wrong here."
When police pulled the men over, they found about 1,000 phones in the van. Many were separated from their battery packs and the chargers were discarded. Michigan State Police Trooper Patrick Sharkey says, “We didn't know exactly what was going on. You hear on the news about these phones being used to detonate IED's."
Tuscola County Prosecutor Mark Reene says, “There were a thousand cell phones that were inside one motor vehicle. There's a laptop computer. There's a camera and there are things that are still being investigated at this point in time. Based on information received from a variety of agencies, we're developing how the actual headphones were sold, revenue was passed from one location to the next. Obviously, it's fairly complex." He thinks the men had a complex plan to attack the Mackinac Bridge.
However, the men, who are from Texas, say they simply purchase the cell phones, and resell them for more money. Louai Othman's wife Lina Odeh says he was simply trying to support her and their two-month old daughter. Odeh says, “Their goal in Michigan was to buy as many phones as they could so they could make a profit over here."
The men allegedly traveled to several states to buy pre-paid cell phones, despite policies at many stores limiting purchases to two or three phones at a time. Police in Wisconsin say these three men also bought phones in their state. A clerk who helped them says she suspected something fishy. Barb Bessert, a clerk at a Dollar General store, says, “When they buy more than a couple. Because they are 20 dollars apiece. So, that's like 80 bucks. But, they don't buy the minutes for it. Just the phone."
But, Othman's wife says this is a common business, and her husband is only being targeted because of his nationality. Odeh says, “There's nothing wrong with it. I don't know why they're making a big deal out of it. Are ya'll making a big deal out of this because all the Arabs are doing it?"
Two of the men are brothers, and the third is their cousin.
The three are scheduled to appear in court again on Friday. They are accused of "providing material support for terrorism and obtaining information of a vulnerable target for the purposes of terrorism."