- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 24, 2006

Seven men indicted yesterday in a conspiracy to bomb the Sears Tower in Chicago and five government buildings in Miami sought to wage a “full ground war against the United States.”

The men, called “homegrown terrorists” by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, are accused of providing material support to terrorist organizations, including al Qaeda, conspiracy to maliciously destroy buildings by means of an explosive device and conspiracy to levy war against the United States.

The seven include five U.S. citizens, one legal permanent resident and one Haitian national in the United States illegally, ranging in age from 22 to 32.

“They hoped for their attacks to be just as good or greater than 9/11,” Mr. Gonzales said at a Justice Department press conference. “Fortunately, because of the fine work of law enforcement, these men were unable to advance their deadly plot beyond the initial planning phase.”

FBI Deputy Director John Pistole called the indictment “an important step forward in the war on terrorism,” saying the men sought support, funding, materials and weapons for their mission, initiated a plot to blow up targets, conducted surveillance and conspired to “murder countless Americans.”

“But we pre-empted their plot,” Mr. Pistole said, although he acknowledged the men never obtained any explosives or weapons and never made contact with any known terrorist, conspiring instead with an informant they thought was a member of al Qaeda.

“One of the individuals was familiar with the Sears Tower, had worked in Chicago and had been there … but in terms of the plans, it was more aspirational than operational,” he said.

The indictment said one of the suspects, Narseal Batiste, met several times in December with the informant, to whom he swore his allegiance to al Qaeda and from whom he requested boots, uniforms, machine guns, radios, vehicles and $50,000 to help build an “Islamic army to wage jihad.”

Mr. Pistole described Mr. Batiste as the ringleader, saying he made “the first indication of intent to commit an attack” against the FBI office in Miami. He said Mr. Batiste intended to recruit and supervise volunteers and took steps to carry out violent attacks in the United States.

Mr. Gonzales said an investigation into the suspected conspiracy was continuing, but declined to elaborate.

“What we have is a situation where individuals in America made plans to hurt Americans. They did take some overt acts. They did request materials. They did request equipment. They did request funding. They swore allegiance to al Qaeda,” he said. “We took action when we did because we believe we have an obligation to prevent America from another attack.”

Asked whether the government thought the men had the capability of carrying out the planned attacks, Mr. Gonzales said it was “dangerous” to speculate otherwise. He said a “combination of the planning and the overt acts taken” were sufficient to support an indictment in the case.

“There’s no immediate threat to facilities in Miami, no immediate threat to the Sears Tower … but they did take sufficient steps we believe does support this prosecution,” he said.

The four-count indictment, handed up in U.S. District Court in Miami, named Mr. Batiste, Patrick Abraham, Stanley Grant Phanor, Naudimar Herrera, Burson Augustin, Lyglenson Lemorin and Rotschild Augustine. Arrested Thursday, six were taken into custody in Miami and a seventh in Atlanta.

The men appeared before a federal magistrate yesterday in Miami and were granted court-appointed attorneys. If convicted, they face up to 20 years in prison on each charge.

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