The alleged homegrown plot to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago and other U.S. targets is being called a sham tonight by those close to the suspected terrorists, reports CBS News correspondent Jim Acosta. Seven men that the government says had taken an oath of allegiance to al Qaeda were arrested this week — but on Saturday their families and attorneys were firing back.
"Allegations that's going towards him is false, that's all I have to say," says Charlene Lemorin, the wife of one of the suspects.
"My kid is not a terrorist," says Elizan Phanor, the mother of a suspect.
Much of the criticism is directed at the fact that the case hinges on alleged statements the men made to an FBI informant who infiltrated the group's meetings at a Miami warehouse posing as an al Qaeda operative.
"None of the people charged were members of al Qaeda. The only person to claim to be a member of al the Al Qaeda group was the one person working for the FBI," says Jimmy Hardy, who is a lawyer for one of the suspects.
Even though authorities acknowledge the suspects never obtained any explosives — and even had to ask for a digital camera to snap pictures of their alleged targets — the attorney general likened the seven men to the bombers who attacked London and Madrid.
But, said U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, at a news conference, "Left unchecked, these homegrown terrorists may prove to be as dangerous as groups like al Qaeda."
Legal analysts say the government's terrorism conspiracy laws give prosecutors broad discretion when it comes to bringing charges.
"Conspiracy law really only demands that you have two people in a rowboat with an agreement of an overt act," Ruth Wedgewood, a law professor at Johns Hopkins University told Acosta.
Federal authorities have had a mixed record prosecuting domestic terror cases. Earlier this year a former assistant U.S. attorney was indicted on charges he hid evidence from defense lawyers representing an alleged terror cell in Detroit. Two convictions in the case were tossed out.
Asked whether this latest case might meet the same fate, the U.S. attorney in Miami said authorities have a duty to stop potential terror cells — weak or strong.
"This is precisely the kind of case we should be investigating. These are precisely the types of groups we should be dismantling and disrupting," U.S. attorney Alexander Acosta said at a news conference.
Since Sept. 11, the department of justice claims more than 260 people have either pleaded guilty or been convicted on terror-related charges. But only a handful of those cases have had any actual connections to al Qaeda.
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