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Lawsuit Sheds Light On How A Texas Plumber's Truck Ended Up In Syria

You might remember a story from about a year ago of a plumber from Texas whose used truck ended up in hands of Islamist militants in Syria.

A photo of the truck posted on Twitter showed the Ford F-250 being used by jihadis. Last week, the plumber filed a lawsuit against the dealer that bought his truck and he's seeking $1 million in damages.

In his lawsuit, Mark Oberholtzer, of Texas City, says that he began to scrape off the name of his company from the truck as he waited for paperwork. But a salesman at AutoNation Ford in Houston told him someone else would take care of it.

Records from Carfax show that the truck was sold at auction in November 2013. By December, it had been exported to Turkey and a year later, his truck was spotted on Twitter in Syria.

In the lawsuit, Oberholtzer says that's when his life changed forever.

The comedian Stephen Colbert picked up the picture and made the truck — and the plumber's company — a national sensation.

"That country is going down the toilet," Colbert quipped. "But for the first time they know who to call to unclog it."

In his lawsuit, Oberholtzer says this is no laughing matter. His company received hundreds of calls from people threatening him because they thought he supported terrorists.

His secretary quit, he says, and his business' reputation was damaged. He had a visit from the FBI and from the Department of Homeland Security.

Marc Cannon, a spokesman for AutoNation, says it expected the Mark-1 Plumbing logo to be scraped off when it sold the car at auction. He said that AutoNation tried to help Oberholtzer and that it was unfortunate that this case had to come down to a $1 million lawsuit.

Former U.N. ambassador Mark Wallace, of the non-profit Counter Extremism Project, has been trying to bring attention to the huge number of trucks — specifically Toyotas — the Islamic State has bought.

While this was a Ford truck, the case, he says, illuminates how a black market trade across the Turkish border has benefitted Islamists.

"Turkey has to do a much better job in shutting their border and preventing this porous trade from seeping into the border," Wallace said.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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