Attorneys for two Arab-American college students accused of supporting terrorism through the sale of mobile phones said their clients were victims of discrimination, while authorities charged them Thursday with an additional felony.
“These are all-American kids that unfortunately, in this day and age since 9/11, have names that call them into question,” said defense attorney Rolf Baumgartel.
Authorities stopped Osama Sabhi Abulhassan, 20, and Ali Houssaiky, 20, both of Dearborn, Mich., on a traffic violation Tuesday in Ohio. Authorities said they found airplane passenger lists and information on airport security checkpoints, along with $11,000 cash and 12 phones, in their car.
Prosecutors said investigators also found a map that showed locations of Wal-Mart stores from Ohio through Kentucky, Tennessee and the Carolinas.
Prosecutor Susan Vessels said the prepaid mobile phones they bought can be used to make hard-to-track international calls and have been linked to use by terrorists.
Abulhassan and Houssaiky admitted buying about 600 phones in recent months at stores in southeast Ohio and selling them to someone in Dearborn, the heart of southeastern Michigan’s large Arab community.
Baumgartel said the government had no evidence the phones were being used illegally and the men planned to resell the phones simply to make money. Defense attorneys also said the airport and airplane information were old papers left in the car by a relative who worked at an airport.
Charges on charges
Each defendant was charged Wednesday with money laundering in support of terrorism. On Thursday, prosecutors added soliciting or providing support for acts of terrorism. The two also were charged with a misdemeanor count of falsification.
A judge ordered them held on $200,000 bond each. Both also must surrender their passports.
FBI spokesman Mike Brooks in Cincinnati said the case had no link to the alleged plot to blow up U.S.-bound planes that British authorities said they thwarted Thursday.
Abulhassan is a junior at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. The school’s directory lists him as a political science major. Houssaiky had been enrolled at Wayne State University in Detroit as recently as May and was studying to be a physical therapist. He was not enrolled this fall, a university spokesman said.
At Dearborn’s Fordson High School, the two friends were star football players. Both were born in the United States to parents who immigrated from Lebanon.
They face up to five years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines if convicted.