DALLAS – The wife of one of three Texas men arraigned on terrorism-related charges in Michigan says her husband and his relatives are not terrorists, but are simply trying to make money by reselling cell phones.
"They're locked up in jail for something that they didn't do," 20-year-old Lina Odeh told The Associated Press on Saturday.
Her husband, Louai Abdelhamied Othman of Mesquite, along with his brother, Adham Abdelhamid Othman of Dallas, and their cousin Maruan Awad Muhareb of Mesquite, are charged with collecting or providing materials for terrorist acts and surveillance of a vulnerable target for terrorist purposes.
Police found about 1,000 cell phones in the men's minivan. Authorities have not said what they believe the men intended to do with the phones, most of which were prepaid TracFones. But the police chief in Caro, Mich., where they were arrested, said cell phones can be used as detonators, and prosecutors in a similar case in Ohio have said that TracFones are often used by terrorists because they are not traceable.
Odeh said the men were buying the phones to sell to a man in Dallas for a profit of about $5 per phone. She said they were in Michigan because so many people in the Dallas area are doing the same thing that the phones are often sold out.
Odeh said she thought her husband and her relatives were targeted because of their Arab descent. The men's families come from Jerusalem, she said.
The men were stopped early Friday about 80 miles north of Detroit after purchasing 80 cell phones from a Wal-Mart. Police said they found about 1,000 phones in their minivan. The men were arrested Friday afternoon.
No pleas were entered at the arraignment Saturday at a District Court in Caro. A magistrate set bond at $750,000 apiece and the men were being held at the Tuscola County Jail, police said.
"All we did is buy the phones to sell and make money," Louai Othman told the magistrate. He said authorities had previously stopped the group in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Muhareb told the magistrate: "This is a misunderstanding." He said he was selling the phones to earn money to help pay for his brother's college education.
Tuscola County Prosecutor Mark E. Reene told The Saginaw News in Michigan that investigators believe the men were targeting the Mackinac Bridge, which connects Michigan's Upper and Lower peninsulas. He declined to say what led investigators to that belief.
Reene and the FBI did not return phone messages Saturday from The Associated Press.
Odeh said the family is working to get an attorney for the men.
"I just want everyone to know that they're innocent and they shouldn't be locked up in jail without any evidence," she said.
Her husband is a college student and they have a 2-month-old baby, Odeh said.
A pretrial hearing has been set for Friday and a preliminary exam for Aug. 24.
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.