June 23, 2006

Miami group charged with Sears Tower bomb plot

By Tom Brown

MIAMI (Reuters) - Seven men were charged on Friday with
conspiring to blow up the landmark Sears Tower in Chicago and
the FBI building in Miami in a mission they hoped would be
"just as good or greater" than September 11, U.S. officials

But Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told a news
conference in Washington that the plotting by the "home-grown
terrorism cell" never went beyond the earliest stages.

"There was no immediate threat," Gonzales said,
acknowledging the defendants never had contact with al Qaeda
and did not have weapons or explosives.

Deputy FBI Director John Pistole said at the Justice
Department news conference that the discussions to attack the
110-story Sears Tower -- the tallest building in the United
States -- were "aspirational rather than operational."

In a Florida grand jury indictment issued on Thursday, the
men are accused of pledging loyalty to Osama bin Laden's al
Qaeda to seek support from it for their desire to "wage war"
against the U.S. government and build an Islamic army.

They wanted to "kill all the devils we can," it said.

But a person they thought was an al Qaeda representative
was actually an FBI informant, justice officials said.

The raid on the Miami-based group grabbed the national
media spotlight but officials denied there was any political
motivation before midterm congressional elections in November,
amid a deep slump in President George W. Bush's popularity and
in public support for the Iraq war. Critics of the
administration frequently accuse it of exploiting fear of a
repeat of the September 11 attack.

"These are precisely the types of groups that we should be
dismantling and disrupting and we are going to continue to
aggressively pursue any cell that expresses an intent to commit
terrorist acts against the United States," said R. Alexander
Acosta, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.

The markets shrugged off news of the arrests.


Five of the men -- suspected ringleader Narseal Batiste,
along with Patrick Abraham, Rotschild Augustine, Burson
Augustin and Naudimar Herrera -- appeared briefly in a Miami
magistrate's court on Friday. Shackled and dressed in khaki
prison garb with plastic sandals, they were granted
court-appointed attorneys.

Another suspect, Lyglenson Lemorin, was arrested in Atlanta
and made his initial court appearance there on Friday, the U.S.
Attorney's office in Miami said.

The seventh suspect, Stanley Grant Phanor, was arrested in
the Miami area earlier this week on a probation violation and
will appear in court next Wednesday.

Justice Department officials said five of the men were
Americans and two were from Haiti. One of the Haitians was in
the country illegally, they said.

Gonzales said the men were charged with conspiracy to
provide material support to al Qaeda and terrorists, conspiracy
to bomb the Sears Tower and the Miami FBI office and conspiracy
to levy war against the United States.

Most of the suspects were arrested on Thursday after
heavily armed FBI agents and police raided a warehouse in one
of Miami's poorest neighborhoods, Liberty City, a mainly black
area that has seen some of the area's worst race riots.

A man who called himself Brother Corey said he and some of
the suspects were members of the "Seas of David" religious
group and told CNN they were not terrorists.

A sister of Stanley Grant Phanor also denied her brother
was linked to terrorism. "They're labeling him something that
he's not," Marlene Phanor told Miami's WSVN TV station.

"He's ... no terrorist; he's in a religious group that's
trying to support the community."

The Council on American-Islamic Relations said the suspects
did not belong to the Islamic community in Liberty City.

(Additional reporting by Deborah Charles and James Vicini
in Washington, and Michael Christie in Miami)