MIAMI — War with the U.S. government was at the heart of a terrorist plot to destroy Chicago's Sears Tower and bomb FBI offices, a prosecutor said Wednesday during closing arguments in the retrial for six Miami men accused of conspiring with al-Qaida.
Alleged ringleader Narseal Batiste and the others in the "Liberty City Seven" conspired with an FBI informant who pretended he was from al-Qaida with the hope of starting an anti-government war, Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Gregorie said.
"It's really not a complicated case," Gregorie said. "These are terrorists inside the United States. They are going to try to take over the United States."
Batiste's attorney, Ana M. Jhones, accused the Bush administration and FBI of looking to "set people up" on overblown charges in their zeal to make a high-profile terrorism case. She said Batiste faked interest in terrorism to con a government informant posing as an al-Qaida operative out of $50,000.
His lawyers also claim he was entrapped by two FBI informants who orchestrated the entire plot.
"Money was at the heart of Mr. Batiste's intent here," Jhones told jurors. "It wasn't about explosives. It wasn't about weapons. It wasn't about going to Chicago."
Hung jury earlier
The second trial came after a jury in December could not agree on verdicts for the six men. The first jury did acquit one of the original seven, but immigration officials are seeking to deport him to Haiti anyway because of the terrorism allegations.
Gregorie said Batiste and the others would have pursued a terrorism attack no matter what, noting that they were captured on FBI videotapes taking an oath to al-Qaida in March 2006.
"All you have to say is no — walk away, don't do it," Gregorie told jurors.
Jhones countered that Batiste is overheard repeatedly on the FBI tapes saying his men knew nothing about the terrorism talk.
There is no evidence the men ever acquired any explosives, building blueprints or other items needed to pull off an attack on the 110-story Sears Tower. They did take surveillance pictures and video of the Miami FBI office and other buildings, which prosecutors said was key evidence of intent and support for al-Qaida.
Batiste, 34, ran a struggling construction business and also led an organization in Miami's impoverished Liberty City neighborhood called the Moorish Science Temple. Based at a building dubbed the "Embassy," the group does not recognize the U.S. government's authority and blended elements of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
On some of the FBI tapes, Batiste is heard claiming he has divine power and describing the U.S. government as "the devil" that must be eradicated starting with a plot "as great or greater" than the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"We're going to kill all the devils we can," Batiste says on one FBI intercept.
Plot for money, or power?
Gregorie scoffed at Batiste's insistence that that it was all a scam to get money for his business and to do charitable work in the community.
"This isn't about love, about helping the community. This is about power," he said.
Each of the men faces up to 70 years in prison if convicted. They were arrested in June 2006 and have been in custody ever since, enduring a pair of two-month trials before U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard.
The suspect who was acquitted, Lyglenson Lemorin, remains in immigration custody pending possible deportation to Haiti on the same terrorism allegations.
Attorneys for Batiste's five co-defendants are expected to give closing statements Thursday, with jurors likely to begin deliberations Friday.
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