- The Washington Times - Friday, June 23, 2006

From combined dispatches

MIAMI — Seven persons were arrested yesterday in connection with the early stages of a plot to attack Chicago’s Sears Tower and other buildings in the United States, including the FBI office here, a federal law enforcement official said.

As part of the raids related to the arrests, FBI agents swarmed a warehouse in Miami’s Liberty City area, using a blowtorch to take off a metal door. One neighbor said the suspects had been sleeping in the warehouse while running what seemed to be a “military boot camp.”

CNN reported last night, citing law-enforcement sources, that some suspects belong to a radical black Muslim sect and that at least one had taken “an al Qaeda oath.” They had carried out surveillance on the Sears Tower and FBI building in Miami, the sources told CNN.

According to Fox News, five of the suspects are U.S. citizens, one an illegal alien from Haiti, and one a resident alien. All are expected to be arraigned in U.S. District Court in Miami this morning.

Sources told CNN that the arrests culminated a months-long undercover operation.

The suspects believed they were dealing with an al Qaeda operative, but the person was actually a government informant, the sources said.

Press conferences about the arrests were planned for today in Washington and Miami. Miami U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta said in a statement that the investigation was an ongoing operation and that more details would be released today.

“There is no imminent threat to Miami or any other area because of these operations,” said Richard Kolko, spokesman for FBI headquarters in Washington. He declined further comment.

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, questioned about the case during an appearance on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” said he couldn’t offer many details because “it’s an ongoing operation.”

“We are conducting a number of arrests and searches” in Miami, Mr. Mueller said, which were expected to be wrapped up this morning.

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 apparently militaristic group.

The residents said FBI agents spent several hours in the neighborhood showing photos of the suspects and seeking information. They said the men, who appeared to be in their teens or 20s, had lived in the area about a year.

The men slept in the warehouse, said Tashawn Rose, 29. “They would come out late at night and exercise. It seemed like a military boot camp that they were working on there. They would come out and stand guard.”

She talked to one of the men about a month ago: “They seemed brainwashed. They said they had given their lives to Allah.”

Benjamin Williams, 17, said the group had young children with them sometimes. Sometimes, he added, the men “would cover their faces. Sometimes they would wear things on their heads, like turbans.”

Xavier Smith, who attends the nearby United Christian Outreach, said the men would often come by the church and ask for water.

“They were very private,” said Mr. Smith, 33. “The spoke with like an accent, sort of a Jamaican accent.”

The 110-floor Sears Tower is the nation’s tallest building. Security was beefed up after the September 11 terrorist attacks, and the 103rd-floor skydeck was closed for about a month and a half. The FBI’s headquarters in Miami sits near a residential neighborhood just east of Interstate 95.

A huge crowd — up to 250,000 people — was expected downtown today for a parade to honor the NBA champion Miami Heat. Security measures consistent with such an event were in place, city officials said, and the raids were not expected to affect it.

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