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Miami group charged with Sears Tower bomb plot


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Atnevon

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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 said.

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.

BRIEF APPEARANCE

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.

Source: Reuters
The sky was the color of a television, tuned to a dead channel. - William Gibson




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