Cell Phone Theft Suspect Sunk by a Selfie

His modus operandi was so smooth and effective it began to look as if he could not be stopped. Then the suspect in a string of Minnesota cell phone store burglaries got tripped up by a fluke mistake.

The 40-year-old man’s system for entering the telephone stores was simple: He would break into adjacent storefronts that were empty then dig through the wall to the cell phone location. If he tripped an alarm in the process, police would arrive on the scene, find the doors locked and assume that no crime had been committed.

On one occasion, surveillance video at a burglarized mobile store showed a lone suspect wearing a black facemask and gloves and carrying a camera.

Outside the back door

What went wrong? The burglar mistakenly dropped his personal cell phone on the ground outside the back door of a Maplewood, Minnesota, store. On it was a selfie. That was all authorities needed to arrest Abbas Ateia Al Hussainawee.

He is accused of providing stolen cell phones to an international crime ring. He also was charged with possession with intent to sell methamphetamine. A judge ordered him detained, saying Abbas was a flight risk and a danger to the public.

Abbas has been linked to nine cell phone burglaries through DNA and footprints. In addition to working the Minneapolis and St. Paul area, prosecutors say he was involved in similar break-ins in Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and Missouri.

A search of his Minneapolis apartment turned up more than a half-pound of methamphetamine, which prosecutors believe he was planning to sell. There were also burglar tools in his place and travel documents indicating he was planning a trip to Basra, Iraq.

A native of Iraq

Abbas was born in Iraq, came to the United States at age 19, and has lived in Minnesota since 2001 as a legal resident.

His lawyer, Murad Mohammad, said his client was an unemployed construction worker with a clean record, and the tools in his apartment were for that purpose.

“The government has a lot of proof problems,” Mohammad said.

Prosecutors say the suspect sold the mobile phones to the Mustafa Organization, which allegedly has dealings with numerous other “runners.”

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