On Third Try, Government Gets Conviction in Sears Tower Plot
If at first you don't succeed, try and try again. That was the Government's attitude in the Liberty City, Fla. "Sears Tower" plot terror trial. Two juries didn't convict the defendants, but today, a third jury convicted five and acquitted one.
After two previous mistrials, a federal jury Tuesday finally reached verdicts in the Bush-era terrorism case of six Miami men charged with conspiring with al Qaeda -- convicting five and acquitting one.
...The indictment charged the Liberty City Six with four counts of conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization; provide material support to terrorists; destroy buildings with explosives; and levy war against the U.S. government in a seditious act.
A seventh defendant was acquitted in the first trial. The Government deported him to Haiti anyway. So what was different in this trial? [More...]
In the third trial, prosecutors Jacqueline Arango and Richard Gregorie put a new spin on the evidence by trying to portray Batiste as an admirer of a notorious criminal in Chicago. They tried to show that Batiste's inspiration for his radicalism was Jeff Fort, whom Batiste came to appreciate as a young man living in that city. Fort, a drug trafficker who led a black militant gang, was convicted in 1987 of conspiring with Libya to terrorize the United States. But no evidence directly linked Batiste to Fort or his violent group, the El Rukns.
This case was a government sting. The convictions hinged on the testimony of two FBI informants.
The first, a convenience store clerk from Yemen with a criminal history, snitched on Batiste after hearing him talk about his militant ideas, including destroying the Chicago landmark.
At the FBI's direction, he introduced Batiste to the second informant, a more polished Middle Eastern man who posed as an al Qaeda representative. He insinuated his way into Batiste's group by proposing al Qaeda could help him on his mission to blow up the Sears Tower if Batiste could return the favor by assisting al Qaeda in a scheme to destroy several FBI buildings.
The informant's plan was a fiction, however, designed to see how far Batiste would go with his militant ambitions. He peppered Batiste with questions about logistics for his mission: weapons, vehicles, uniforms, money. Batiste seemed mostly interested in getting money for himself and his impoverished crew.
The defense contended:
when FBI agents arrested the men nearly three years ago at their warehouse in Liberty City, they found no weapons of mass destruction, no terrorism blueprints and no radical literature.
''We were really about helping the community,'' said Herrera, the lone acquitted defendant, outside the courthouse. ``It wasn't until this informant came into the picture that things changed. All we wanted from him was money. It was a like a dangling carrot.''
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