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NEWS & COMMENTARY 2008 SPEAKERS 2007 2006 2005

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Pre-paid phones favored by criminals, terrorists

Marietta Times: The bulk purchase of pre-paid phones, like the nine TracFones bought at a local Radio Shack Tuesday by two men now being held on terrorism charges, may be linked to criminal activity.

“These type of phones have always been used by people who want to disguise themselves,” said Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks.

Criminals may prefer to use these phones because their numbers are difficult to trace and when disposed of they usually carry no information of their former user, Mincks said.

Although many people use pre-paid phones for legitimate purposes, historical accounts point to their use in terrorist efforts.

Terrorist leader Osama bin Laden used prepaid minutes on a satellite phone in Afghanistan during the 1990s, assuming it would disguise his communications, according to past court testimony cited by CBS News.

Mincks said his office has heard several reports of the bulk purchase of pre-paid phones throughout Washington County, alerted by retailers who are encouraged to pass along such activities to law officials under recommendation by the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“In some cases, they’re (the suspects) taking the store’s entire stock,” Mincks said.

He said those purchasing the phones tend to travel in teams of five or six, hitting big-box stores like Wal-Mart and sometimes traveling throughout multiple states.

According to ABC News, six individuals attempted to buy about 60 phones from a Wal-Mart store in Texas on Dec. 18, 2005.

In a separate case, individuals purchased 150 disposable TracFones at a Target in California, according to ABC.

Both cases were reported to law enforcement officials, but a direct connection to terrorist activities was not immediately established.

Radio Shack spokeswoman Wendy Dominguz said it is company policy to only sell three disposable phones to one customer at any time.

“We’re trying to prevent possible fraud or resale,” Dominguz said, adding that the decision was in part determined by a fax the company received by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security warning of the possible dangers of bulk sales.

The two men arrested Wednesday, Osama Sabhi Abulhassan, 20, and Ali Houssaiky, 20, both of Dearborn, Mich., admitted to buying more than 600 phones in the Mid-Ohio Valley over the past few weeks, recently making purchases in Barlow, St. Clairsville and Woodsfield.

Maj. John Winstanley said the sheriff’s office has received notices from homeland security warning individuals are purchasing the phones for terror related activity.

“It’s their belief that they send these TracFones overseas, and they use (the chips) against the troops, detonating bombs,” Winstanley said.
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