Surge in Sale of Disposable Cell Phones May Have Terror Link

Legitimate Uses May Have Spurred Sales, Too

Law enforcement sources say it is possible some large purchases that have been identified as being sent to the Middle East could have been sent for resale in a sellers' market for handsets, or simply given to friends and relatives. Officials are also investigating these possibilities.

Managing the complex balancing of these two issues -- significant and legitimate uses and their potential for misuse has been an ongoing dilemma for law enforcement.

For now, both intelligence officers and bomb technicians have been monitoring reports of large-quantity purchases.

Some such purchases may have innocent explanations, but even law enforcement officials themselves say disposable phones are sometimes their own phones of choice when operating in hostile environments. The CIA recently used them in a kidnapping in Milan, Italy. Italian authorities were able to track the telephones. But they mostly tracked them to a dead end -- the false identities in which they were purchased.

Possible purchasers of disposable cellular phones could also include political extremists, terrorist supporters, sympathizers or others simply shaken by the recent revelations of the spy agency's widespread monitoring of calls, including calls to and from the United States to foreign countries.

Police Report Identifies Terror Links

In the Midland, Texas, arrest report, police also identified the individuals as linked to a terror cell:

"Evasive responses provided by the subjects, coupled with actions observed by officers at the onset of the contact prompted the notification of local FBI officials to assist in the investigation," the report said. "Upon the arrival of special agents, and as a result of subsequent interviews, it was discovered that members of the group were linked to suspected terrorist cells stationed within the Metroplex."

Law enforcement officials have not elaborated on the information in the report or specified which terrorist group the individuals were allegedly linked to.

In addition, special agents reported that similar incidents centering on the large-scale purchases of tracfones had been reported throughout the nation -- identifying individuals of Middle-Eastern descent as the purchasers."

ABC News is working to confirm the details in the police report.

"Upon conclusion of the initial investigation, three of the suspects were taken into custody on immigration violations, with one individual arrested for possession of marijuana -- the drug having been discovered during the search of the group's vehicle. Also found within the green 2002 Kia van were additional cell phones, the total believed to be approximately 60."

FBI officials told ABC News that while the cases may wind up in the hands of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, the FBI would benefit from any intelligence gleaned and would take the lead if a solid terrorist connection emerged.

ABC News' Jill Rackmill contributed to this report.

-- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 1499905.
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...