Cell phone shopper arouses suspicions

By Sharna Johnson: Freedom Newspapers

A Muleshoe store clerk’s suspicion that a customer might be engaged in terrorism led police last week to question a Palestinian man regarding his attempt to purchase prepaid cell phones, according to police.

Muleshoe Police Chief Brian Frieda said the unidentified man, who said he was involved in an international cell phone resale market, was interviewed at great length and released April 30 when his story was verified.

“There is no law against buying cell phones in the U.S.,” Frieda said.

Frieda said the man went into a Dollar General store and tried to buy more than the two prepaid cell phones allotted by store policy. When the man questioned the policy, Frieda said the clerk became concerned and called police.

Dollar General spokesperson Tawn Earnest said a corporate policy limiting cell phone purchases to two was created about a year ago in response to concerns from law enforcement.

Earnest, who said she was not aware of the Muleshoe incident specifically, said all employees are encouraged to report suspicious activity in stores to law enforcement.

“If they suspect that something doesn’t look right, we do encourage them to ask law enforcement to investigate,” she said.

At some point after the arrival of police, the clerk mentioned the practice of cell phones being used as explosive detonators and the man made an offhanded comment that concerned the officers, Frieda said.

Unsure if the remark was sarcastic or a result of language barriers, police asked the man to cooperate with an interview at the police department and he did, Frieda said.

The man told police he travels through the region buying phones and delivers them to a business associate in Dallas, where they are packaged and shipped to other countries for sale, Frieda said.

Federal authorities cleared the man’s identity and confirmed the international resale of cell phones is a legitimate industry, Frieda said.

“In the back of my mind, I know (terrorism) is there, but in this part of the country we fall into that false sense of security,” he said.