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San Antonio courthouse break-in may be just a prank, police say

October 19, 2011 | 12:14 pm

CourthouseSan Antonio authorities say five Moroccan men caught breaking into a downtown courthouse early Wednesday appeared to be pranksters, not terrorists.

Surveillance video from inside the courthouse showed two of the men wearing sombreros and waving a gavel, according to Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, who gave a briefing outside the courthouse Wednesday. He said the men appeared to "just be some guys on a prank."

Bexar County Sheriff Amadeo Ortiz said the men speak little English but were cooperating with investigators with the help of an interpreter. All five were arrested on suspicion of burglary.

Sheriff's Deputy Chief Dale Bennett told The Times that the sombreros were taken from the courthouse law library and that some of the men appeared to be intoxicated when they were arrested.

The men, who were unarmed, were dressed casually (as seen on KSAT-San Antonio) and did not resist when they were arrested, Bennett said. All had 90-day visas and had entered the country legally, four through New York's John F. Kennedy Airport in September and the fifth this month in Miami, he said. Bennett could not say where the men's flights originated.

Three of the men's names match those on an FBI watch list, Bennett said. The names, which have not been released, are not common, he said.

San Antonio police officers were initially called to the courthouse at 1:40 a.m. after three of the men tripped a silent alarm by pulling down a fire escape to climb into a fourth-floor window, Bennett said.

Two of the men were found in a nearby recreational vehicle, photographed by the San Antonio Express-News. The vehicle had California license plates and was rented in New Jersey, Bennett said.

Police officers who went inside the RV told Reuters it contained "photographs of infrastructure" including shopping malls, water systems, courthouses and other public buildings taken in cities across the United States.

San Antonio police officials later declined to confirm those reports, and Bennett said authorities were attempting to obtain a warrant to search the RV Wednesday afternoon.

"We’re still trying to determine whether these individuals had a plot or were just on a little vacation trek," Bennett said.

"There was some alcohol involved, so that leads us to believe they might not have known what they were doing, what building they were breaking into," he said. "We’re leaning towards a party prank at this point."

At least two of the men appeared to be intoxicated and had beer bottles with them when they were caught, according to a federal law enforcement official who was briefed on the early developments in the case and spoke with The Times. The official said there was nothing so far that would indicate a link to terrorism.

Agents from the FBI San Antonio office, the FBI-run Joint Terrorism Task Force, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have assisted San Antonio Police in running a background check on the five men and investigating evidence found at the scene.

"Right now, it appears to be a case of road-trip drinking gone awry," the official said.

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 -- Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Houston and Brian Bennett in Washington

Photo: Authorities prepare to tow away an RV allegedly used by five men arrested for allegedly breaking in to a San Antonio courthouse. Credit: Lisa Krantz / San Antonio Express-News

 

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