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Terrorism with your pancakes? FBI, DHS, Police Raid 7 IHOP Restaurants

Sep 20, 20114 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

Is there a terrorist investigation in the Heartland? There are conflicting reports, but FBI, Homeland Security, ICE and IRS agents along with local police raided seven IHOP restaurants, six in Ohio and one in Evansville, Indiana. The warrants are sealed but boxes were seized and loaded into U-Hauls.

Well, well, well, there was some scattered excitement and murmurings of possible terrorist investigations as the feds were busy raiding seven IHOP restaurants across Ohio and Indiana on Tuesday morning. It took about an hour and a half to arrive at the IHOP Evansville scene were the FBI was working as the lead agency with assistance from Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, IRS agents and local law enforcement.

Even as Johnny-on-the-spot, there seemed to be a whole lot of nothing going on from the outside looking in, watching a U-Haul van parked in the back of the IHOP in Evansville, Indiana. Although I was ready for it, armed with the ACLU photographers’ rights, no one harassed me about taking photos. Evansville employees sat behind the building and waited while the feds were inside. Although no one wanted to comment, another IHOP employee and perhaps manager kept barking, “Who are you talking to?” at the others who were using their cell phones.

While most agents who descended on the scene were being tight-lipped about executing a sealed search warrant and the raid, the FBI told 14 News that the agents on scene in Evansville were from the Cleveland, Ohio branch, but all the raided IHOPs are owned by “Tarek Elkafrawi, locally known as Terry Elks.” Elks owns seven IHOPs: one in Evansville, Indiana, two in Toledo, Ohio, and the other four also in Ohio: one each in Holland, Lima, Perrysburg and Findlay. Two of Elks’ homes and two storage units were also raided, according to WTOL. As many as 50 boxes filled with files were removed from one IHOP in Toledo and “dozens” removed from another.

Although the investigation is closed, a “well-placed source in the Toledo Police Department” told WTOL that the feds are investigating money laundering, funding terrorist organizations and possible undocumented workers. Conversely, Patrick Lenow, director of corporate communications for DineEquity, parent company of IHOP and Applebee’s told the Evansville Courier & Press, “We have been told by authorities it does not involve terrorism.” Lenow added that DineEquity as well as IHOP franchise owner Terry Elks were cooperating with all the raids.

The Toledo Blade in Ohio claimed the raids were “reportedly for suspected terrorist activity.” An update by the Toledo Blade included Toledo IHOP assistant manager, Travis Noe, saying, “Agents with badges and guns arrived shortly after 6 a.m. He said the agents told him to stay still and allow them to search the place and gave no details on why they were searching the restaurant. After taking out boxes, the agents left about 10:30 a.m.” Yet another IHOP employee said when he arrived at work this morning, he was immediately ordered “to put his hands up in the air.”

FBI Special Agent Scott Wilson told the Courier & Press that he did not know if anyone was detained from the seven IHOP restaurant raids on Tuesday morning. Like the six IHOP locations in Ohio, federal agents loaded white boxes allegedly filled with documents into a U-Haul trailer. At the time of this report, although 10 boxes were taken in through the back door, seven boxes were removed from the Evansville IHOP restaurant by gun-toting feds like in the image below. The Courier & Press added that “one agent had what appeared to be three or four computer hard drives in his hands.”

The U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of Indiana told WIBC that it would neither “confirm nor deny the existence of any investigation.”

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.