Terror suspects sought ties with al-Qaida
Terror suspects sought ties with al-Qaida
By MICHAEL J. SNIFFEN, Associated Press Writer 2
WASHINGTON - Seven young men arrested in an alleged
plot against the Sears Tower were part of a group of
"homegrown terrorists" who sought to work with
al-Qaida but ended up conspiring with an informant,
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Friday.
Outlining an alleged plot to bomb the Sears Tower in
Chicago and a federal building in Miami, Gonzales told
a Justice Department news conference: "They were
persons who for whatever reason came to view their
home country as the enemy."
Gonzales stressed that "there was no immediate threat"
in either Chicago or Miami because the group didn't
have the materials it was seeking. FBI Deputy Director
John Pistole concurred: "This group was more
aspirational than operational."
The seven individuals ranging in age from 22 to 32
were indicted by a federal grand jury in Miami. Six
were taken into custody in Miami Thursday when
authorities swarmed a warehouse in the Liberty City
area, removing a metal door with a blow torch. A
seventh was arrested in Atlanta.
The alleged terrorists five U.S. citizens, a legal
immigrant from Haiti and a Haitian national who was in
this country illegally were expected to appear in
federal court in Miami later Friday. They had taken an
oath to al-Qaida and sought help from someone they
believed was a member of the terrorist organization,
the indictment alleged.
Said Gonzales: "The convergence of globalization and
technology has created a new brand of terrorism. Today
terrorist threats come from smaller more loosely
defined cells not affiliated with al-Qaida but who are
inspired by a violent jihadist message, and left
unchecked these homegrown terrorists may prove to be
as dangerous as groups like al-Qaida."
Gonzales outlined the contents of an indictment handed
up Thursday, which identified Narseal Batiste as
having recruited and trained others beginning in
November 2005 "for a mission to wage war against the
United States government," including a plot to destroy
the Sears Tower.
To obtain money and support for their mission, the
conspirators sought help from al-Qaida, pledged an
oath to the terrorist organization and supported an
al-Qaida plot to destroy FBI buildings, the four-count
Batiste met several times in December 2005 with a
person purporting to be an al-Qaida member and asked
for boots, uniforms, machine guns, radios, vehicles
and $50,000 in cash to help him build an "'Islamic
Army' to wage jihad'," the indictment said. It said
that Batiste said he would use his "soldiers" to
destroy the Sears Tower.
Gonzales said "the individual they thought was a
member of al-Qaida was present at their meetings and
in actuality he was working with the South Florida
Joint Terrorism Task Force."
In February 2006, it said, Batiste told the "al-Qaida
representative" that he and his five soldiers wanted
to attend al-Qaida training and planned a "full ground
war" against the United States in order to "kill all
the devils we can." His mission would "be just as good
or greater than 9/11," the indictment accused Batiste
The seven defendants were charged with conspiring to
"maliciously damage and destroy by means of an
explosive" the FBI building in North Miami Beach and
the Sears Tower in Chicago.
They were are also charged with conspiring "to levy
war against the government of the United States, and
to oppose by force the authority thereof."
At a news conference in Miami, U.S. Attorney R.
Alexander Acosta said officials decided to raid the
warehouse and make the arrests on Thursday because
investigators had sufficient evidence and were
confident they had fully developed the case. Acosta
said authorities are confident that each arrested
member of the cell "had intent to pose a threat."
"You want to go and disrupt cells like this before
they acquire the means to accomplish their goals,"
Acosta said. "This is exactly the kind of case we
should be investigating."
Acosta said the group came to law enforcement's
attention when the alleged ringleader, Batiste,
approached an individual about waging jihad inside the
United States. This unidentified individual went to
authorities with that information and later posed as
an al-Qaida member, Acosta said.
He would not more fully describe the individual other
than to say it was a person "who was working with us."
Residents living near the warehouse said the men taken
into custody described themselves as Muslims and had
tried to recruit young people to join their group.
Tashawn Rose, 29, said they tried to recruit her
younger brother and nephew for a karate class.
She said she talked to one of the men about a month
ago. "They seemed brainwashed," she said. "They said
they had given their lives to Allah."
Residents said FBI agents spent several hours in the
neighborhood showing photos of the suspects and
seeking information. They said the men had lived in
the area for about a year.
Benjamin Williams, 17, said the group sometimes had
young children with them. At times, he added, the men
"would cover their faces. Sometimes they would wear
things on their heads, like turbans."
Managers of the Sears Tower, the nation's tallest
building, said in a statement they speak regularly
with the FBI and local law enforcement about terror
threats and that Thursday "was no exception."
Security at the 110-floor Sears Tower, a Chicago
landmark, was ramped up after the Sept. 11 attacks,
and the 103rd-floor skydeck was closed for about a
month and a half.
"Law enforcement continues to tell us that they have
never found evidence of a credible terrorism threat
against Sears Tower that has gone beyond criminal
discussions," the statement said.
In Chicago early Friday, people headed to work in the
Sears Tower knew about the potential threat but didn't
plan to change their routines.
In addition to Batiste and Augustin the defendants
were identified as Patrick Abraham, or "Brother Pat";
Stanley Grant Phanor, or "Brother Sunni"; Naudimar
Herrera or "Brother Naudy"; Lyglenson Lemorin, also
known as "Brother Levi" or Brother Levi-El"; and
Rotschild Augustine, or "Brother Rot."
Lemorin was arrested in Atlanta.
Joseph Phanor, the father of defendant Stanley Grant
Phanor, said he didn't believe "anything they say
about" his son being involved in a terrorist plot.
"This boy, he's not a violent boy. He never got into
trouble. ... He didn't want to kill people," the elder
Phanor told The Associated Press.
He said his son and his friends studied the Bible
together in Miami. "All I know is that they have a
construction job there and they have a contract to do
some construction job. That's what he told me," he
The person they believed to be an al-Qaida
representative gave Batiste a digital video camera,
which Batiste said he would use to record pictures of
the North Miami Beach FBI building, the indictment
said. At a March 26 meeting, it went on, Batiste and
Burson Augustin provided the "al-Qaida representative"
with photographs of the FBI building, as well as video
footage of other Miami government buildings, and
discussed the plot to bomb the FBI building.
But on May 24, the indictment said, Batiste told the
"al-Qaida representative" that he was experiencing
delays "because of various problems within his
organization." Batiste said he wanted to continue his
mission and his relationship with al-Qaida
nonetheless, the document said.
Associated Press writers Kelli Kennedy and John Pain
in Miami and Connie Cass and Mark Sherman in
Washington contributed to this report.