How Did Plumber’s Truck End Up in Hands of Terrorists?

Jihadist’s tweet showing Texas company’s logo and phone number leads to $1M lawsuit
How Did Plumber’s Truck End Up in Hands of Terrorists?
Plumber's truck ends up in Syria. (Twitter photo)

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The next time you sell or trade your plumbing truck, you might make sure your company name and phone number are removed from the vehicle before it’s put up for auction.

Mark Oberholtzer, owner of Mark-1 Plumbing in Texas City, Texas, thought he had done just that when trading in his 2005 Ford F-250 pickup on a 2012 model at a Houston dealership on Oct. 23, 2013.

Waiting for the paperwork to be completed, Oberholtzer’s son began peeling off the “Mark-1 Plumbing” decal on the truck’s doors when salesman Edgar Velasquez told him to stop.

Doing so would blemish the paint; better to let the dealership do it, he was advised.

What began as a typical vehicle transaction took a bizarre twist when the truck with company name and phone number appeared in a Dec. 15, 2014, tweet from a Middle East terrorist.

Life hasn’t been the same since.

Within 48 hours, the photo had gone viral. By the end of the day, Mark-1 Plumbing received over 1,000 mostly harassing and threatening phone calls.

Family members feared for their lives. Oberholtzer’s secretary was too scared to return to the office. And for a week, the business was forced to shut down.

While some might say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, Oberholtzer, his family and employees might disagree. In the past year they have been hounded by TV stations and news agencies, including USA Today, CBS, NBC and Inside Edition.

Oberholtzer says he’s not a terrorist sympathizer and has no idea how the pickup he traded found its way to Syria. He has been visited by agents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the FBI. Local police keep a watch on his home and business.

He has since begun carrying a handgun for personal protection.

The image, originally tweeted by Caleb Weiss, a member of Ansar al-Deen, a jihadist group operating near Aleppoin, Syria, took on a life of its own when Stephen Colbert featured the story as an opening item for his final show on Dec. 18, 2014. The segment was seen by over 2.4 million viewers – the most-watched episode in the history of The Colbert Report.

On Sept. 20 this year, The Colbert Report was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award. As part of its nomination, a portion of “Texan’s Truck in Syria” was replayed to 11.9 million viewers, promoting a new round of harassing calls.

As of Dec. 14, the two-minute, 14-second segment had 77,574 views on Comedy Central’s website.

Here’s a look:

“I just want it to go away, to tell you the truth,” Oberholtzer told the Galveston County Daily News.

But go away it won’t.

On Dec. 9, Oberholtzer filed a $1 million lawsuit against AutoNation Ford Gulf Freeway, the Houston dealership the complaint says is guilty of gross negligence, common-law fraud, negligent misrepresentation and invasion of privacy by appropriation of name.

So how did Oberholtzer’s truck end up in the Middle East?

According to a Carfax vehicle history report, the truck was listed as sold at a Texas auto auction Nov. 11, 2013, and exported to Mersin, Turkey, arriving in the country Dec. 13, 2013. At some point, as seen in the tweet, the truck entered Syria.

With each new outbreak of terrorist activity, the harassing phone calls begin again – up to 200 a day.

According to the complaint, irate individuals have yelled expletives at whoever answered the phone, sang in Arabic for the duration of the call or voice message and directed expletive-laced death threats at employees.

“They were calling us ‘terrorists’ or ‘traitors,’ [threatening], ‘We’re going to come down there and do this.’ We had numerous death threats,” the 52-year-old plumber from Galveston County told the New York Post.

Surprisingly, Oberholtzer’s Ford pickup isn’t the only vehicle that has been repurposed for use by extremists. The Islamic State is known for featuring Toyota trucks and SUVs in its graphic propaganda videos, prompting the U.S. government to ask the Japanese automaker why so many of its products have landed in the militant group’s clutches.

“How could these brand-new trucks … these four-wheel drives, hundreds of them – where are they coming from?” asked Iraqi Ambassador to the United States Lukman Faily in an interview with ABC News.

Toyota distributors in the region told ABC they didn’t know how their vehicles reached the Islamic State.

According to The Washington Post, when last seen, Oberholtzer’s truck was equipped with an antiaircraft gun, and being used by Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (the “Muhajireen Brigade”), an extremist group fighting the Syrian government.

ABC’s Good Morning America says it’s unlikely Oberholtzer will prevail in his lawsuit, although a settlement is possible. Bottom line, remove your company name and identifying logos before selling your truck. There’s no telling where it could end up.

Check it out:


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