The FBI, alerted by local law enforcement agencies, has investigated several bulk purchases of disposable cell phones in the state of Missouri, which has prompted fears of terrorism.
On December 4, four dozen of these cell phones were purchased at a Walmart in Cape Girardeau. On December 5, two immigrants bought 59 cell phones from a Walmart in Lebanon. Thirty-two cell phones were purchased in Macon. Fifty were bought in Columbia. And Jefferson City police reported that three people bought over 50 of the phones at a Walmart there; the Jefferson police acknowledged that “three men with accents” bought the phones, but stated that because they did not have a legal reason to detain them, they allowed them to leave.
Such cell phones, nicknamed “burners,” can be bought and used anonymously, then thrown away so they cannot be traced–thus leading to fears of terrorist usage.
Fears of a terrorist attack were stoked by the theft of numerous propane tanks in both Independence and Lee’s Summit, Missouri. Local police have handled the propane tank thefts.
FBI spokeswoman Bridget Patton told The Kansas City Star, “You have local law enforcement acting out of an abundance of caution. We have seen similar purchases of bulk cell phones in the past, and it has been concluded that these transactions were unrelated to terrorism.”
Macon County Sheriff Sgt. Curt Glover echoed, “I do not feel there’s an immediate threat to the community. This has been going on for the last 15 years.”
One witness to the Columbia cell phone purchase became suspicious because the men purchasing the phones paid with cash. He told ABC 17, “Right then and there I knew there was not something adding up about this. It’s not right, it doesn’t make any sense. Who’s going to order 50 phones for Christmas? Who does that?”