Tall Tale?

October 23, 2007 10:00:00 PM PDT
Was an alleged plan to blow up Chicago's Sears Tower just a tall tale? Seven men are on trial in Miami, charged in connection with the scheme.They are known as the Liberty City Seven, a reference to the poor section of Miami where they were arrested and where the FBI says the Sears Tower attack took shape.

When federal authorities took down the alleged conspiracy last year, they claimed to have interrupted a major domestic terrorism plot.

December, 2005: with sounds of the season bleeding onto it's hidden camera, it was the FBI, not Santa Claus, coming to town to shoot this covert meeting in a Miami hotel room, a meeting between the government secret agent and Narseal Batiste on the right.

Batiste, once a delivery truck driver on the streets of Chicago, had become the target of a federal domestic terror investigation.

The paid informant was posing as an al Qaeda operative, planted by the feds to bust a suspected home grown terror plot targeting Chicago and other cities across America, including Miami and New York.

"This whole war could be won if we win one city, you know what that city is, Chicago," said Batiste on tape.

Six months later, federal agents stormed a warehouse where Batiste allegedly trained radical followers to carry out attacks on government offices and skyscrapers.

"The Empire State Building and, uh, the Sears Tower. With those two buildings down all radio communication is out," Batiste said on the tape.

Those words were backed up by a promise of firepower, lots of it, including machine guns. And nearby residents fueled speculation that an attack was imminent.

"Whole head wrapped up just the eyes showin' and they were standing guard, one here one there, like soldiers," said one neighbor.

The tapes and testimony of the paid FBI informant are the centerpieces of the federal case against Batiste and his six alleged associates, underway for the past month. Prosecutors have shown jurors photos of potential targets allegedly taken by the defendants.

Marlene Phanor denies her brother ever took photos of Sears Tower or FBI buildings. She said he didn't even own a computer.

Family members of the accused say those meetings that took place were religious ceremonies, and the military training was just for self-protection in a dangerous neighborhood.

"I know he don't have the heart to no kill someone or try to attempt to do anything like that," said one defendant's father.

"Americans are the targets because they are Muslims," said M. Cherif Bassiouni, DePaul University. The terrorism expert is sharply critical of the prosecution and contends the men were entrapped by a suspect informant.

"It's all a part of a bigger political agenda and unfortunately the Department of Justice has fallen prey to it," said Bassiouni.

Bassiouni ridicules investigators for believing that the accused terrorists were serious when they discussed filling restaurant salt shakers with poison to kill people.

"Man, that would be a hell of a day for America, that's gonna be worse than anthrax," the informant said on tape.

"This idea of a salt shaker is so simplistic, so out of reach in terms of plausibility, if you are speaking to anyone who is involved in anti-terrorism and ask are these people for real, the answer would be these are a bunch of jokers who don't know what they are talking about," said Bassiouni.

The government hopes these tapes will prove the Liberty Seven are clever conspirators, especially Batiste, known as "Brother Naz" and "Prince Manna," who claimed his Chicago gang membership would allow him to rally an army of "street soldiers."

"I can get 5,000... soldiers in Chicago. So what we need, we need to have the gangs go crazy in the streets, see what I am saying, cause massive confusion," Batiste said on tape.

The management of the Sears Tower says the Liberty City Seven were telling a tall tale. In a statement to the I-Team, building general manager Thomas Dempsey says: "It's clear in this case that these misguided and ill-equipped defendants never went beyond talk of far-fetched criminal acts. The bottom line is that no imminent threat to Sears Tower ever existed."

The trial has just completed its first month of evidence and will probably last through November. If convicted, the Liberty City Seven each face up to 70 years in prison.


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