Seven Florida Men Charged with Conspiring to Attack Sears Tower, Other Structures

Seven Florida men have been arrested on charges that include conspiring to provide material support to the al Qaeda terrorist organization and conspiracy to levy war against the United States by discussing and planning attacks on targets in the United States, including the Sears Tower in Chicago and the FBI building and several federal buildings in Florida, the Department of Justice announced on June 23. June 23.

The seven men – Narseal Batiste, Patrick Abraham, Stanley Grant Phanor, Naudimar Herrera, Burson Augustin, Lyblenson Lemorin and Rothschild Augustine – were named in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Florida (Miami). The indictment charges the men with four counts: conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, namely al Qaeda; conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists; conspiracy to maliciously damage and destroy by means of an explosive; and conspiring to levy war against the government of the United States.

The defendants – five U.S. citizens, one legal permanent resident and one Haitian national in the country illegally – have all been arrested and are expected to make appearances at U.S. District Court in Miami June 23.

The indictment alleges that, beginning in November 2005 and continuing to the present, Bastiste recruited and supervised individuals to organize and train for a mission to wage war against the United States, including a plot to destroy the Sears Tower by explosives.

The plot hatched by Batiste and his co-conspirators was foiled when they allegedly attempted to obtain the support of al Qaeda to achieve their goals and discussed this desire with an individual cooperating with law enforcement who posed as a member of al Qaeda. Believing they were dealing with that terrorist group, in March 2006, Batiste and other defendants pledged an oath of allegiance to al Qaeda and allegedly supported a plan to destroy FBI buildings in the United States by taking photos of the FBI Building in North Miami Beach, Florida, and other federal buildings in Miami-Dade County.

Batiste then allegedly took reconnaissance photographs of the FBI Building in North Miami Beach, the James Lawrence King Federal Justice Building, federal courthouse buildings, the Federal Detention Center and the Miami Police Department.

In addition to conducting surveillance, the defendants allegedly provided the individual, whom they believed was an al Qaeda member, with a list of materials and equipment needed to wage jihad, including boots, uniforms, machine guns, radios and vehicles. In December 2005, at one of a number of meetings with this person, Batiste spoke of using an army of "soldiers" and explosives to destroy the Sears Tower. In a subsequent meeting, he provided the individual with a list of other materials needed in his plot to take down the Sears Tower, including radios, binoculars, bullet proof vests, firearms, vehicles and $50,000 cash.

Barbara Carley, managing director, Sears Tower, said security officials at Sears Tower regularly speak with the FBI and local law enforcement authorities who track and investigate terrorism threats.

"Today was no exception," she added."Despite new information, 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."

In fact, law enforcement officials acknowledged that the men were far from having the ability and resources to mobilize their plan.

"Batiste and his group had the intent and took several steps toward fulfilling their plan of blowing up the Sears Tower and the Miami FBI building," said U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta of the Southern District of Florida. "They were never able to obtain, however, the explosives or access needed to implement their plan. The South Florida Joint Terrorism Task Force successfully performed its mission to prevent terrorism by identifying, disrupting and prosecuting these individuals before they posed an immediate threat to our nation."

Carley said Sears Tower has implemented many measures – both visible and behind-the-scenes – to protect the building. Security officers at the tower "are among the most highly skilled of any commercial office building, regularly receiving training from the city of Chicago, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, the Secret Service and the FBI on topics ranging from how to detect people with ill intent, how to spot and react to a suspicious packages and how to respond to a fire until the Chicago Fire Department arrives."

According to the indictment, the plot advanced further through meetings with other co-defendants. In one of the meetings on Feb. 19, 2006, Batiste allegedly told the "al Qaeda representative" that he wanted to attend al Qaeda training with five of his soldiers, with a mission to wage a "full ground war" against the United States in order to "kill all the devils we can," which "will be just as good or greater than 9/11." Ultimately, all seven of the defendants allegedly swore bayat, or an oath of loyalty to al Qaeda.

"The convergence of globalization and technology has created a new brand of terrorism. Homegrown terrorists may prove to be as dangerous as groups like al Qaeda," said Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. "I am pleased by the cooperation among federal, state and local law enforcement in taking down this group of individuals who wished to harm our country and its citizens."

FBI Deputy Director John S. Pistole called the uncovering of the plot "a grim reminder of the persistent threat environment that exists here at home and underscores the need for continued vigilance and cooperation."

If convicted, the defendants in this case face a maximum penalty of 15 years each in prison on the charges of conspiracy to provide material support or resources, and a maximum of 20 years in prison each on the charges of conspiracy to destroy by use of explosives and conspiracy to levy war against the United States.

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