Federal prosecutors stung twice by deadlocked juries said Wednesday they will make a third attempt to convict six men accused of scheming with al-Qaida to topple Chicago's Sears Tower and bomb FBI offices in several cities.
The decision was announced at a hearing before U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard, who declared a mistrial last week in the second trial because jurors could not agree on any verdicts. The first trial in the "Liberty City Seven" case ended the same way in December, except that a seventh defendant was acquitted.
It was not immediately clear when the third trial would begin. Defense attorneys planned to seek bail for several of the men, who have been in custody since their highly publicized June 2006 arrests.
Prosecutors contend that alleged ringleader Narseal Batiste and the other defendants hoped to conduct terrorist attacks that would start a broader anti-government insurrection. Each of the men faces up to 70 years in prison if convicted of four terrorism-related conspiracy charges.
Batiste, 34, has denied terrorism ambitions and claimed he was only discussing fictional attacks with paid FBI informants in hopes of conning one of them out of $50,000. The backbone of the prosecution's case is hundreds of hours of FBI recordings of those conversations.
One key videotape depicts an al-Qaida loyalty oath administered to the group by one of the informants, who was posing as a terrorist network emissary known as Brother Mohammed.
The Bush administration had hailed the defendants' arrests as a prime example of the post-Sept. 11 strategy of preventing terrorism plots in the earliest possible stages. Yet there was no evidence the group ever acquired explosives or took concrete steps toward staging any attacks; they did have a handgun and a few machetes.
Batiste testified that he wasn't serious about an alliance with al-Qaida and that the group's goal was to uplift the impoverished Liberty City neighborhood. The men adhered to a sect called the Moorish Science Temple, which blends elements of Christianity, Judaism and Islam and claims authority beyond the U.S. government's.
Authorities are seeking to deport to Haiti the man who was acquitted in the first trial, 33-year-old Lyglenson Lemorin. All but one of the remaining defendants are U.S. citizens.