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FBI doubts cellphone terror scheme

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Update The FBI has expressed reservations about the alleged cellphone terror plot uncovered by a Wal-Mart cashier working with small-town cops in Michigan, which we reported recently.

The purchase of an unusually large number of TracFones at a Wal-Mart store led to terrorism-related felony charges against three men of Middle-Eastern descent in the town of Caro, Michigan.

The men, Adham Abdelhamid Othman, Louai Abdelhamied Othman, and Maruan Awad Muhareb, said they intended to re-sell the phones at a profit, but the local police imagined that the phones were meant to detonate explosive devices with which the Mackinac Bridge was to be destroyed.

The FBI said Monday that it had no information to indicate that the men in custody had any ties to terrorist organisations, the Associated Press reports. Nevertheless, the local police and prosecutors seem persuaded that they've foiled a dastardly plot, and appear prepared, for now, to go through with the prosecutions.

Additionally, photos of the five-mile long Mackinac Bridge were found in a digital camera belonging to one of the suspects, prompting local authorities to imagine it was a target.

A lawyer defending the men told the AP that the photos were tourist snapshots taken while the men were stuck in traffic. "That's what people do when they see a tourist attraction: they take pictures," the wire service quotes him as saying.

Meanwhile, in Washington County, Ohio, two other men of Middle-Eastern descent have been cleared of terrorism charges after also being discovered with a large cache of pre-paid cell phones. Prosecutor James Schneider said there was too little evidence that Ali Houssaiky and Osama Sabhi Abulhassan, of Dearborn, Michigan, were affiliated with any terrorist outfits. ®

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