- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2007

MIAMI — Federal prosecutors yesterday painted a vivid portrait of an aspiring terrorist group that sought to convert the U.S. population to Islam.

In opening remarks in the trial of the so-called “Liberty City Seven,” U.S. Attorney Richard Gregorie said the group hoped to incite gang warfare to distract authorities while its members bombed several buildings, including FBI offices in Miami and the Sears Tower in Chicago.

If convicted, the defendants face up to 70 years in prison.

Mr. Gregorie said the group’s leader, Narseal Batiste, was heard in a clandestinely recorded conversation saying he “wanted to build an Islamic Army for Islamic jihad,” or holy war, on American soil.

“They say that the war has to be fought here. … There has to be chaos,” the prosecutor told jurors.

The Liberty City Seven, named after the crime-ridden neighborhood where the group was based, came to the attention of federal authorities in October 2005, according to a federal indictment. The indictment claims that Mr. Batiste, a former Marine and contractor, had began recruiting young men in the neighborhood to join his call for jihad.

Soon thereafter, Mr. Batiste, 33, and six other co-defendants met with one of two FBI informants. Mr. Batiste purportedly asked one of the informants, who was posing as an al Qaeda member, for high-powered assault rifles, uniforms and other supplies for the group’s fledgling radical Islamic movement.

By March 2006, the informant had the seven men swear an oath of “bayat,” or loyalty, to al Qaeda, according to the indictment.

However, Mr. Batiste’s defense attorney, Ana M. Jhones, said her client and the other defendants were conned into going along with the jihadist plan by the informants known only as “Mohammed” and “Abbas.” She said the informants were paid tens of thousands of dollars by the federal government to dupe the defendants into thinking they were joining al Qaeda.

“This case is about an orchestrated event, a play,” Ms. Jhones said. “These two informants knew how to work the system. They wrote the script.”

Mr. Jhones portrayed her client as a devoutly religious man who reached out to local youths in hopes of preventing them from turning to crime and drug use.

She also noted that in several of the conversations recorded by the government, the defendants can be heard laughing about the purported plot to bomb buildings.

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