It was a massive law enforcement undertaking known as “Operation T-bone” — a wide-ranging probe involving close to a dozen local, state, and federal agencies and organizations focused on busting a network of convenience stores committing food stamp fraud in Jefferson County, Ala. The most populous county in the Yellowhammer State, Jefferson was where the law dropped the hammer a few days ago on stores in and around Birmingham.
According to the website al.com, when Operation T-bone began to round up suspects early one morning last week, “The officers and agents were armed with 242 arrest warrants and plans to arrest 17 suspects.”
It reportedly didn’t take long for all 17 people wanted in connection with the fraud involving Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards to be apprehended. From the names of those arrested, it appears that many are Muslim — or at least have names one would reasonably associate with the Muslim faith — though all are said to be U.S. citizens. As al.com noted in its June 3rd coverage of the operation:
“Those arrested in today’s raids are: Jowher Almnasoob, Abdulrahman Alqublani, Ismail Hassan Elnaham, Saleh Yahya Rowaid, Ramzi Jowher Ali Almansoob, Mujahed Jowher Ali Almansoob, Bashir Abosaleh Mohamed, Fouad Zamzami, Muneer Zindani, Sufyan Saleh, Mansoor Almansoob, Audrey Morris, Jerry Brown, Keith Lee Lucas, Travis Wayne Holmes, Murad Nooruddin and Mable Olympia Kirksey.”
And what was really eye-opening about the investigation is where some of the ill-gotten gains of the EBT fraud wound up, according to the al.com report. “The massive probe…targeted those they say have been cheating the food stamp system to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars and sending at least some of the profits via wire transfer to Yemen.”
At the heart of this fraud was a scheme where “the store owners and managers were using EBT cards that did not belong to them to buy goods in bulk to sell at their stores.” The government, of course, regularly reloads money onto those cards; so the scheme could continue and expand.
“How big is the problem? ‘It is enormous. It is pervasive,’ [Deputy District Attorney Cynthia] Raulston said. ‘We actually had to cut off the number we were going to prosecute this round, and this will be an ongoing investigation and prosecution for our office.’”
While there’s no official indication that proceeds from the Birmingham-area EBT fraud network were sent to Yemen specifically to fund terrorism, it’s not much of a stretch to connect critical dots. The federal government’s National Counterterrorism Center says that a major Sunni extremist group — Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) — is based in Yemen. AQAP is thought to have “orchestrated numerous high-profile terrorist attacks.”
And a recent ABC News report identified Yemen as an Al Qaeda breeding ground where Iran has been sending weapons to arm terrorists trying to destabilize the region.
BCN editor’s note: This article first appeared at Western Journalism.