South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com
By RASHA MADKOUR
1:50 PM EST, February 18, 2009
MIAMI (AP) — A group of Miami men accused of plotting to destroy Chicago’s Sears Tower and bomb FBI offices sold out their country for money, a federal prosecutor said Wednesday at the start of the men’s third trial.
Prosecutors are trying to convict the so-called “Liberty City Six” on four terrorism-related charges after two previous trials ended in hung juries. The men are accused of plotting terror attacks with an FBI informant they thought was an al-Qaida operative.
A defense attorney for the group’s leader, Narseal Batiste, 34, said the government’s sting operation was a setup. The FBI’s paid informants were motivated by money to manipulate the men and encourage them to take actions that could later be used against them, attorney Ana M. Jhones said.
“This case is a 100 percent setup. This is a manufactured crime,” she said.
The men took an oath of allegiance to Osama bin Laden — captured by the FBI on videotape — led by a man claiming to be an al-Qaida operative who was an informant posing as a terror financier.
Batiste has previously testified he was never serious about any terror plots and was only playing along in hopes of getting $50,000.
There has been no evidence the men ever took any steps toward pulling off an attack. When they were arrested in 2006, the Bush administration trumpeted the case as an example of heading off terrorists early.
“What’s relevant is their intention — what they wanted to do,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacqueline Arango said.
Prosecutors said the men took photographs and video of possible targets in Miami, including the FBI building, a courthouse complex and a synagogue. In exchange, they wanted money to build what Arango described as their paramilitary group.
“They all agreed to sell out their country for money,” Arango said. “The fact that they did so for the mighty U.S. dollar is no excuse.”
Jhones said one of the informants tricked Batiste into taking the oath and encouraged him to make a list of weapons and equipment. She said video and audio captured by authorities will show two informants were in control and calling the shots, not Batiste.
The defense attorney said Batiste, a construction worker and father of four, was repeatedly asking about the money on the recordings, not talking about blowing up buildings.
“You cannot buy your way to a conviction,” Jhones said.
The men each face 70 years in prison if convicted of four terrorism-related counts, including conspiracy to support al-Qaida and conspiracy to levy war against the U.S.
The trial is expected to last at least two months.
The group of men were named after their hometown of Liberty City, an impoverished area of Miami.