Those Prepaid Cell Phone Purchases And Stolen Propane Tanks In Missouri Probably Aren’t Terrorism [Opinion]

By now you’ve no doubt read that Missouri has been the scene of some rather alarming bulk prepaid cell phone purchases: as the Christian Science Monitor reports, in the past week, on at least five different occasions, men have been observed buying dozens of prepaid cell phones at various Walmart locations in mid-Missouri. All purchases were made with cash, some took place in the wee hours of the morning, and in at least one case, the purchasers are believed to have been of Middle Eastern descent.

Local law enforcement officers questioned the cell phone buyers, but since buying prepaid cell phones in bulk isn’t a crime in Missouri, there was no reason to detain them and they were let go. The FBI has been notified, as well.

In a remarkably-timed coincidence, several dozen propane tanks have been stolen from locations around Missouri, as well.

Considering that pre-paid cell phones — also called “burners” — have been known to be favored by terrorists (they’re difficult to trace, and they can be used — and have been used — to detonate bombs), and potentially explosive propane tanks have gone missing, it’s easy to conclude that terrorism may be brewing in Missouri.

Or maybe not: the bulk cell phone purchases and stolen propane tanks could very well be something much more mundane.

Why Would Anyone Steal Propane Tanks In November And December In Missouri?

If someone were to ask you this question a year ago at this time, before ISIS attacked Paris and before the news started reporting “suspicious” bulk cell phone purchases, you could have likely come up with the answer in seconds: people steal things and then sell them for profit. Winter is coming, people use propane space heaters, and lots of people in rural Missouri live in poverty. It’s easy to put two and two together when you take terrorism out of the mix: thieves are stealing propane tanks and then selling them for less than retail (but still at a profit, since the cost of the stolen tanks to the thieves is $0).

OK, So What About Those Prepaid Cell Phones?

Prepaid cell phones, or “burners,” can be purchased with cash, require no contract, and are thus difficult to monitor and trace. Terrorists love them for that reason. So do another category of people: drug dealers. And guess which state has a huge drug problem? If you answered “all fifty of them,” you’re correct, but Missouri has it particularly bad.

Like a lot of rural states in the nation’s heartland, Missouri — particularly its rural areas — has been hit hard by opiate addiction (Oxycontin specifically) and — wait for it — meth.

Police in Gerald, Missouri bust a meth lab. [AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File]

This Is Not The First Instance Of Suspicious Bulk Cell Phone Purchases

The December, 2015, bulk cell phone purchases in Missouri may be alarming, but this is not the first time, or place, something similar has happened. Back in 2006, a CBS News report entitled “Is Owning 1,000 Cell Phones a Crime?” reported on a similar series of “suspicious” bulk cell phone purchases in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas. In all three cases, there were no ties to terrorism.

To be certain, no one knows the motivation of the bulk cell phone purchases in Missouri last week except the people who purchased them. And no one knows if the stolen propane tanks are connected except the people who stole them. But considering that there are much more mundane reasons for stealing propane tanks and buying prepaid cell phones in bulk than terrorism, concluding that ISIS — or other terrorists — are up to something in Missouri is, as of this writing, a bit of a stretch.

[Image via Shutterstock/R-Type]