Feds: Sears Tower Plotters Eyed Qaeda Ties

U.S. Attorney Jacqueline Arango, center, makes her closing arguments before Judge Joan Lenard during the so-called "Liberty City Seven" trial in Miami Thursday, Nov. 29, 2007. Arango said Narseal Batiste, center, seated in brown jacket, was the commander of a homegrown terrorism cell that sought an unholy alliance with al-Qaida to destroy the Chicago Sears Tower and bomb several FBI offices. (AP/Shirley Henderson)
AP/Shirley Henderson
A construction worker commanded a homegrown terrorism cell that sought an "unholy alliance" with al Qaeda to destroy Chicago's Sears Tower and bomb several FBI offices, a federal prosecutor said Thursday in closing arguments at the group's trial.

Narseal Batiste and his "soldiers" ultimately aimed to topple the U.S. government, and intended to use the attacks to spark a broader insurrection - even freeing prisoners to become guerrilla fighters, prosecutor Jacqueline Arango told jurors in the case of the group dubbed the "Liberty City Seven."

"They weren't going to be able to accomplish these grandiose plans alone. They needed help," Arango said. "That's why Batiste sought an unholy alliance with a foreign terrorist organization. They were a ready-made terrorist cell here for al Qaeda."

Batiste attorney Ana M. Jhones questioned the legality of investigators' tactics, claiming that Batiste was "entrapped" by the informants as part of the FBI's zealousness in making terrorism arrests following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"Manipulation at the hands of the government cannot be tolerated because of their war on terror," Jhones said.

The seven defendants each face as many as 70 years in prison if convicted of all four terrorism-related charges, including conspiracy to provide material support to al Qaeda and plotting to wage war against the U.S. government. The defendants claim they were faking the plot to dupe an informant out of money. They never obtained explosives.

Closing arguments from defense lawyers and a final rebuttal from prosecutors were scheduled to continue Friday and possibly into Monday, said U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard.

Unknown to Batiste in 2005 and 2006 was that two Middle Eastern men he trusted with his suspected plan were actually FBI informants, one of them playing the role of overseas al Qaeda emissary "Brother Mohammed."

The FBI made dozens of audio and video recordings. The key tape, made in March 2006, shows Batiste, the FBI informant and the six other defendants at a ceremony to pledge loyalty or "bayat" to al Qaeda.

Arango said that oath is proof that each of the seven sought to provide material support to al Qaeda and that all of them were aware of Batiste's purported plot.

Batiste, testifying in his own defense over eight days, claimed that he was faking a terrorism plot in an attempt to scam "Mohammed" out of $50,000 and that he had no violent intentions.

His attorney held up stacks of cash she said amounted to the money Batiste thought he could get if he played along with the plots.

"He's talking the talk and he's walking the walk, and this is the motivating factor," Jhones said in her closing statement. "I'm not saying it's proper, but it's not terrorism."

The prosecutor, however, scoffed at that defense, accusing Batiste of lying about the money shakedown in an effort to avoid prison. She said the FBI tapes repeatedly show Batiste discussing such things as a "full ground war" that would "kill all the devils we can" beginning with the Sears Tower and FBI office attacks.

"He's not telling you the truth. The truth is in those tapes," Arango told jurors.

Although Batiste gave the FBI informant lists of weaponry and military gear he sought for the group, the group never obtained the firepower necessary to mount such a grand attack before their arrests in June 2006. The group was part of a sect known as the Moorish Science Temple that blends elements of several religions and does not recognize the authority of the U.S. government.

"They sought the destruction of the United States," Arango said.