View Full Version : Third Trial Of Sears Tower Plot Begins In Miami

02-19-2009, 10:30 AM
Third trial of Sears Tower plot begins in Miami


By Jim Loney
Wed Feb 18, 2009 2:17pm EST

MIAMI (Reuters) - Six men plotted in a poor Miami neighborhood to join al Qaeda and wage war against the United States, a U.S. prosecutor told jurors Wednesday at the opening of the third trial of an alleged scheme to blow up Chicago's Sears Tower and U.S. government buildings.

A defense lawyer countered that the men were set up in a crime "manufactured" by the FBI and two government informants she referred to as "The Muscle" and "The Little Thug."

Government prosecutors have tried and failed twice in the last two years to persuade juries that the men conspired with the Islamic militant group to wage holy war against the United States. The previous attempts ended in mistrials when the jurors could not decide guilt or innocence.

The failures were a blow to the Bush administration's war on terrorism and drew criticism that the government was guilty of overzealous prosecution.

When federal agents arrested the men from Miami's poor Liberty City neighborhood in June 2006, Washington officials touted the case as a major blow against terrorism and a breakthrough in efforts to dismantle domestic sleeper cells.

Prosecutor Jacqueline Arango told jurors Wednesday the group's alleged ringleader, Narseal Batiste, recruited soldiers who wore uniforms, marched together and engaged in "military-type training."

"They all agreed to sell out their country for money," she said.

She told the jurors they would see the men taking oaths of allegiance to the world's "deadliest terrorist organization."

"Each and every one of these men pledged, on videotape, their loyalty to al Qaeda," she said.

Batiste's lawyer, Ana Jhones, called her client a dreamer who planned to create jobs in Miami's inner city and went along with the two FBI informants, who posed as Middle Eastern contacts, in order to extract money from them.

"This is a 100 percent set-up. This is a manufactured crime," Jhones said. "What this is about is a man who tried to do the right thing and got caught up in a web of deceit."

But prosecutors allege the men took photos of possible targets, scouting Miami's FBI headquarters and U.S. courthouse, surveying entry ramps, surveillance cameras and guardhouses. Arango said Batiste came up with the idea to blow up the Sears Tower, America's tallest skyscraper.

The government's case rests largely on some 15,000 wiretapped conversations but Jhones said jurors would never hear Batiste talking about bringing down the Sears Tower or waging war against the United States.

"You're not going to hear it because it doesn't exist," she said.

The six men face charges of conspiring to provide material support to al Qaeda, conspiring to provide material support to an act of terrorism, conspiring to destroy a building and conspiring to wage war against the United States.

At the time of the arrests, federal agents said the group's plans were "aspirational rather than operational," and posed no real threat because they had neither al Qaeda contacts nor the means of carrying out attacks.

But Arango said that didn't matter.

"Whether or not they could actually wage war against the United States is irrelevant," Arango said, describing Batiste as a man who "believed in violence in his soul, in his core."

In addition to Batiste, the group included defendants Patrick Abraham, Stanley Grant Phanor, Naudimar Herrera, Burson Augustin and Rotschild Augustine.