How did a Texas plumber's truck end up with Syrian rebels?

Mark Oberholtzer's Ford pickup truck is now being used on the front lines of Syria. The path from Texas to Syria may have been shorter than some speculate.

@Weissenberg7, via Twitter
The image of Oberholtzer's Ford pickup truck has circulated on Twitter — with his company's name and number on the side.

What happened when Texas City plumbers put a black pickup truck up for auction more than a year ago?

This week, Mark Oberholtzer is among those trying to piece together the story. An Islamic extremist group in Syria was photographed opening fire off of the back of that very same F-250 truck — the company’s name and phone number printed on the side — and that image is now circulating around the Internet

A representative of Mr. Oberholtzer’s company, Mark-1 Plumbing Company, tells CBS News that the company lost track of the truck after selling it to an AutoNation dealership in Houston last year. 

Were members of the Ansar al-Deen Front – or their reps – operating in Texas buying used trucks? Or was there a more indirect path?

Some observers have speculated that it must have taken many, many trades to get from the American South to the Middle East.

But Andrew Collins, who oversees Jalopnik.com’s “Truck Yeah!” vertical, says the path from Texas to Syria may be shorter than some may think.

“If he traded it in, he would have no idea where it’s going,” Mr. Collins says. “The highest bidder takes it, and they can do whatever they want.”

The truck could have been put on a cargo ship bound for a Middle East car dealer within days. 

Car auctions, held several times each week, attract both used car dealers and exporters, he says.

Exporters comprise a small minority of auction attendees and purchase cars that, generally, are in worse condition than the ones that American used car dealers buy, Collins says, who has also written about the auto industry for The Christian Science Monitor.

Exporters then ship the cars overseas, where they are fixed up and resold.

“The next person to buy it could have been the exporter who sold it to the militants,” says Collins, who himself bid in auto auctions for a car dealership for about a year. “I don’t know if ISIS has representatives in the car buying world — I don’t know anything about them. But [exporters] could have shipped it to Syria and sold it to the people who mounted weapons on it. It still would have been a few steps removed from the original seller, but I don’t think it had to be that complex.”

An AutoNation manager would not comment on the vehicle’s sale history to CBS News.

Oberholtzer tells the Galveston County Daily News that he received a thousand calls and faxes between Monday afternoon and Tuesday evening about the photo of his pickup truck.

Oberholtzer’s son, Jeff, tells ABC News that he has received threatening phone calls from around the country.

"To think something we would use to pull trailers now is being used for terror, it's crazy," Jeff Oberholtzer says. "Never in my lifetime would think something like that."

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