Jurors began deliberations Monday on charges against seven men accused of conspiring to destroy Chicago's Sears Tower and blow up FBI offices in an attempt to start an anti-government insurrection.
The members of the so-called "Liberty City Seven" face sentences of up to 70 years in prison if convicted of four terrorism-related conspiracy charges, including plotting to wage war on the U.S. and attempting to provide material support to al-Qaida.
The jury got the case following a two-month trial. The panel deliberated just a few hours before adjourning for the day because one juror had a doctor's appointment. They were scheduled to resume Tuesday.
In closing arguments, a prosecutor underscored allegations that 33-year-old Narseal Batiste was the leader of a homegrown terrorist cell hoping to get help from a man claiming to be an al-Qaida operative — in reality an FBI informant.
"This is the fanatic, ladies and gentlemen, and the soldiers who follow his word," Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Gregorie said.
Batiste testified that he was only trying to dupe the informant out of $50,000, and defense attorneys have said little evidence ties the six other defendants to the alleged plot.
Video shows al-Qaida oath
One of the key pieces of evidence, an FBI videotape, showed a March 2006 ceremony in which all seven took an oath of loyalty to al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden.
The alleged plots never got beyond the planning stage, but Batiste was overheard on hundreds of other FBI audio and video recordings describing elements of the attacks and the war that would follow.
During their closing arguments last week, several defense attorneys suggested the case was blown far out of proportion as the Bush administration sought terrorism convictions at all costs in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Prosecutors repeatedly mentioned those attacks and focused sharply on a recording in which Batiste claims his plan would be "as good or greater than 9/11."
Gregorie, however, said each of those accused had an opportunity to walk away from the conspiracy and never did.
"It has nothing to do with politics," Gregorie said. "It has to do with evidence."
No explosives, military weaponry or definitive attack plans were found when the FBI searched the group's headquarters, known as "the Embassy."
Batiste and the other men were part of an extremist sect known as the Moorish Science Temple, which blends elements of several religions and does not recognize the authority of the U.S. government. Batiste formerly lived and worked in Chicago, including time spent delivering packages in the area around the Sears Tower.