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Terror suspects sought ties with al-Qaida

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060623/ap_on_re_us/terrorism_investigation Terror suspects sought ties with al-Qaida By MICHAEL J. SNIFFEN, Associated Press
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 23, 2006
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      http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060623/ap_on_re_us/terrorism_investigation

      Terror suspects sought ties with al-Qaida

      By MICHAEL J. SNIFFEN, Associated Press Writer 2
      minutes ago

      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
      indictment charged.

      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
      of boasting.

      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
      said.

      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.
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