COLUMBIA, MO - Federal officials are concerned about a large quantity of cell phones purchased in four different Missouri cities in less than a week. Police have investigated the purchase of large quantities of cell phones at Walmart stores in Columbia, Jefferson City, Lebanon and Macon. In two cases, the FBI was contacted.
Law enforcement agencies report cellphones are potential tools in the hands of terrorists. The devices can be used to communicate and they're difficult to trace if they're prepaid phones; they can also be used as detonators for bombs.
A call about several suspects buying many cell phones at once in Jefferson City was reported by police today.
JCPD says it received a call about another incident of a suspect/suspects buying several cell phones from a Walmart in SE Jefferson City.
— KOMU 8 News (@KOMUnews) December 10, 2015
KMIZ-TV reports that several men bought dozens of phones at a Columbia Walmart late last week, and paid in cash. Police just reported the purchases Monday.
The Macon County Sheriff’s Office said it is investigating a similar report on Wednesday at a Macon Walmart:
Police say two men bought 60-cell phones at Walmart just off of I-44 in Lebanon Saturday. Authorities talked to the men buying the merchandise, but didn't have a legal reason to detain them, so they were allowed to leave. Police say they did notify the FBI.
"Somebody went in and bought 60 cell phones from Walmart that's not normal for this area. I'm not going to say just because they're different religion or just because they're Muslim--but these people were they were foreign speaking then you need to take notice and you need to let us know because it doesn't hurt to check on it. You're not being racist or anything like that you're just protecting yourself." Laclede County Sheriff Wayne Merritt tells KYTV.
A spokesman for the FBI tells WDAF-TV that it’s standard procedure for law enforcement agencies to contact them if they deem something to be suspicious. Just because the FBI was contacted does not mean they are investigating the purchases. The alerts could be out of an abundance of caution.