Break-in prank lands French-Moroccans in Texas jail

19th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

An apparent prank break-in at a county courthouse landed five French-Moroccans tourists in a Texas jail where they were questioned by FBI agents, local officials said Wednesday.

Security footage showed the men were wearing sombreros and playing around with a judge's gavel before they were arrested by police who were tipped off by the courthouse security system, Bexar County spokeswoman Laura Jesse told AFP.

But since they'd left the sombreros behind as they made their way out of the building, the responding officers were worried at first that it could be some kind of terror plot.

They called for a security sweep of the building and shut down neighboring streets in downtown San Antonio for several hours.

Soon the local media was "breathlessly" reporting that the courthouse had been attacked, Jesse said.

Reports surfaced that two of the men were on an FBI watch list and that photos of critical infrastructure -- water systems and courthouses -- were found in their recreational vehicle.

But after the security tapes were reviewed and the men questioned, it became pretty clear that the break-in was simply a stupid "prank," she said.

"It's pretty entertaining at least," Jesse said.

"Usually when you think of someone trying to commit a terrorist attack it's not with a sombrero and waving a gavel."

Jesse said police were still trying to sort out why the men decided to break into the courthouse at around 1:30 am (0630 GMT).

She could not confirm reports that the men -- who appear to be tourist in their 20s -- were under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Only two of the men were arrested in the building. Three others were found in the RV which was parked outside.

An FBI spokesman contacted earlier Wednesday declined to comment on the possible motives of the men, or reports that photographs of "infrastructure" from several US cities were found in their belongings.

"Our inquiry involves their immigration status in the country, what their motivations or intentions were for breaking in and to see if there's any type of federal violation that we can pursue," said special agent Erik Vasys of the San Antonio office of the FBI.

Vasys cautioned that "the inquiry is at its preliminary stage."

The five men are currently being held on burglary charges. It was not yet clear whether they held French, Moroccan or dual nationalities.

Officials also bumped up security at a conference being held nearby about satellites and other national security tools used to monitor possible terrorist activities.

"It's a serendipitous event, as far as I know right now," conference organizer Keith Masback, with the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation, told KSAT news.

"But it just heightens our awareness and heightens our resolve that what we're doing here this week is critically important for the nation."

© 2011 AFP

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