The families of two men originally charged with supporting terrorism after buying large numbers of cell phones say they’ve lost a sense of belonging to the country they’ve long called home.
Ali Houssaiky and Osama Sabhi Abulhassan, both of Dearborn, Mich., headed home from jail Tuesday after prosecutors in southeast Ohio dropped the terror charges, saying they couldn’t prove a terrorism link.
“I just wish that when I go onto Google and I Google my brother’s name I won’t see terrorist when his name pops up,” said Houssaiky’s sister, Diana Houssaiky.
The men still face misdemeanor counts of falsification stemming from allegations that they initially gave deputies different names than the names that appeared on their IDs. The men also initially said they were buying phones for a relative’s construction business, then changed the story when deputies asked for contact information, Washington County Prosecutor James Schneider said.
The FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security sent bulletins early this year warning police departments nationwide to be alert for bulk purchases of prepaid TracFones, which could be used to finance terrorism.
Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks said Tuesday that officers had been watching for cars with Michigan, Virginia and Florida license plates after receiving numerous calls from store merchants in recent weeks about men of Middle Eastern descent buying large numbers of prepaid cell phones.
3 arrested in Michigan
Within days of the Ohio arrests, three Palestinian-American men from Texas were charged in Michigan after nearly 1,000 cell phones were found in a van they were driving. Relatives of the men said they planned to resell the phones to make money, and the FBI said Monday it had no indication that the men had any ties to known terrorist groups. Local prosecutors, however, were standing by the charges.
In Ohio, Houssaiky and Abulhassan acknowledged buying about 600 phones in recent months at stores in southeast Ohio, according to an affidavit filed to support the arrest.
On the current trip, they said they planned to buy up to 300 phones at $25 each. The two said the phones were for the owner of a Dearborn gas station, the affidavit said. Officials also said they found $11,000 cash, airplane passenger lists and information on airport security checkpoints in their car.
Racial profiling alleged
Prosecutors have not provided details about the passenger lists. Houssaiky’s mother, Nada Houssaiky, said Tuesday the security information consisted of training notes for her job as an airport passenger service agent at Detroit Metro Airport.
Abulhassan said he believes the men were targeted because they are Arab-Americans. He referred to a comment by Mincks, who said last week the department did not profile based on ethnicity but said the suspects’ background “caused a bit of a stir.”
“If that’s not profiling, I don’t know what is,” Abulhassan said.
Mincks said Tuesday his department profiles people based on behavior, not background.
Schneider said his office and federal authorities don’t believe “the defendants pose an imminent threat at this time.”