- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Ohio prosecutors yesterday dropped terrorism charges against two men arrested last week after police found them in possession of a carload of prepaid cellular phones.

Washington County Prosecutor James E. Schneider told reporters that he could not prove any terrorist links to Ali Houssaiky and Osama Sabhi Abulhassan, both of Dearborn, Mich., who were arrested Aug. 8 in Marietta, Ohio, after they purchased a large number of prepaid cell phones.

Instead, the men, both 20, face misdemeanor charges of falsification, which stem from accusations that they lied to authorities about why they bought the phones. Prosecutors dropped charges of money laundering in support of terrorism and soliciting or providing support for acts of terrorism, Mr. Schneider said.

Meanwhile, local prosecutors in Michigan are proceeding with their case against three Palestinian-Americans who were arrested last week at a Wal-Mart in Caro after they were found with 1,000 prepaid cell phones.

Louai Abdelhamied Othman, 23, of Mesquite, Texas; his brother, Adham Abdelhamid Othman, 22, of Dallas; and their cousin, Maruan Awad Muhareb, 19, also of Mesquite, were arraigned Saturday in Caro. No pleas were entered, and bail was set at $750,000 each. A pretrial hearing has been set for Friday.

Tuscola County Prosecutor Mark E. Reene declined to comment yesterday on the case, but defense attorney Nabih Ayad said he planned to file an emergency motion for his clients’ release on bond. Mr. Ayad said photos of the Mackinac Bridge found with the men were tourist snapshots.

Mr. Reene had described the “targeted issue in this case” as the Mackinac Bridge, and Caro Police Chief Ben Page said the phones could have been used as detonators.

On Monday, the FBI said that there was no imminent threat to the bridge and that the agency had no information tying the men to any known terrorist groups or to the plot to bomb trans-Atlantic jetliners that was foiled last week in London.

Michigan State Police Director Col. Peter C. Munoz, who heads the state’s homeland security efforts, also said there was no indication that the men were plotting to blow up the Mackinac Bridge “or target any other location in Michigan or elsewhere.”

In February and March, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security sent out bulletins to police departments nationwide warning about bulk purchase of phones for personal profit or financing terrorism.

Speaking Monday at the Disabled American Veterans national convention in Chicago, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales told reporters: “I don’t know how many of you have ever gone to a store to purchase 80 to 100 cell phones at a time. I would consider that somewhat unusual, and I think it would be perfectly legitimate to say, ‘Hey, is there something going on here?’”

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