The U.S. Coast Guard has increased patrols near the bridge connecting Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas after prosecutors said they believe three men jailed on terrorism charges were targeting the 5-mile-long span.
Tuscola County Prosecutor Mark E. Reene said investigators believe the men were targeting the Mackinac Bridge. He declined to say what led investigators to that belief.
“The additional patrols are being conducted to deter, detect and allow for a more timely response to any possible threats made to the bridge,” the Coast Guard said in a statement Sunday.
The men were arrested Friday outside a Wal-Mart stores in Caro, about 80 miles north of Detroit, after purchasing 80 cell phones. Authorities say the men had about 1,000 cell phones in their van.
The men said they planned to sell the phones for profit in Texas.
Maruan Awad Muhareb and Louai Abdelhamied Othman, of Mesquite, Texas and Adham Abdelhamid Othman of Dallas were charged with collecting or providing materials for terrorist acts and surveillance of a vulnerable target for terrorist purposes.
Authorities have not said what they believe the men intended to do with the phones, most of which were prepaid TracFones, which are difficult to trace. But Caro’s police chief said cell phones can be used as detonators.
District Court Magistrate Joseph A. Van Auken set a pretrial hearing for Friday and a preliminary exam for Aug. 24.
Similar case in Ohio?
The arrests in Michigan came three days after two men were arrested in Marietta, Ohio, where police said they aroused suspicions when they acknowledged buying about 600 phones in recent months at stores in southeast Ohio.
Ali Houssaiky and Osama Abulhassan, both 20 and from the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, have been charged with two felonies — money laundering in support of terrorism and soliciting or providing support for acts of terrorism — and misdemeanor falsification. A preliminary hearing on the felony counts was set for Tuesday.
Defense lawyers said Houssaiky and Abulhassan planned to resell the phones simply to make money. They say the men were targeted only because they are of Arab descent.