Charges dropped against men once accused of bridge terror plot

Tuesday, September 5th 2006, 9:58 pm
By: News On 6

DETROIT (AP) _ A federal judge threw out conspiracy and money laundering charges Tuesday against three Texas men once accused of plotting a terror attack on Michigan's iconic Mackinac Bridge.

U.S. District Court Magistrate Charles Binder in Bay City ruled that federal prosecutors failed to present enough evidence to justify bringing them to trial on charges involving the buying and resale of prepaid cell phones. They were cleared earlier of the terror charges.

Defense lawyers claimed the men _ Louai Othman, 23, his brother Adham Othman, 21, and their cousin Maruan Muhareb, 18, all of Mesquite, Texas _ were targeted because of their Middle Eastern heritage. All are Palestinian-American.

``I'm happy to be going home, and I'm happy that I'm free,'' Adham Othman said through his lawyer, Christopher McGrath.

The three were arrested Aug. 11 after buying large numbers of prepaid cell phones at a Wal-Mart outlet in Caro, about 80 miles north of Detroit.

Tuscola County authorities said they were alarmed by the hundreds of prepaid cell phones they said were found in the men's van and by images on their digital camera of the five-mile-long Mackinac Bridge, which links Michigan's two peninsulas.

They charged the men with collecting or providing materials for terrorist acts and with surveillance of a vulnerable target for terrorist purposes.

The FBI and state police later said there was no imminent threat to the landmark span and no information linking the Othmans and Muhareb to known terrorist groups.

Michigan charges against the men were thrown out Aug. 16. But federal authorities continued to press a separate case against the men, saying the phone purchases were part of an illegal scheme to remove propriety software and resell the phones. TracFone Wireless Inc. and Nokia Corp. have filed civil suits elsewhere seeking to stop the practice.

Messages seeking comment were left with the U.S. attorney's office in Detroit.

Muhareb said he insisted all along that his phone-buying activities were legal. ``This is what I told them from the beginning,'' he said through his defense attorney, Mona Fadlallah.

She said the case highlighted serious problems with the state of the U.S. justice system.

``This should be frightening for everyone, and not just people of Middle Eastern descent,'' Fadlallah said.