Seven Indicted in Alleged Plot Against Sears Tower

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    Embed <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/5505846/5505847" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">
  • Transcript

Court Document

Read a PDF copy of the indictment against seven men allegedly conspiring with al-Qaida to "levy war against the United States."

Seven people arrested Thursday in Miami have been indicted on suspicion of planning attacks against federal offices in Miami, and the Sears Tower in Chicago. The indictment says the men were conspiring with al-Qaida to "levy war against the United States."

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Federal authorities have charged seven people with conspiring with al-Qaida to wage war against the United States. Officials say the men were plotting to attack Chicago's Sears Tower. The seven were arrested yesterday in Florida, where they were allegedly targeting several other buildings. To learn what's known so far, we've called NPR's Larry Abramson, who's in the studio.

Larry, good morning.

LARRY ABRAMSON reporting:

Morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Who are these people?

ABRAMSON: Well, from what we know of them, right now, five of the seven are U.S. citizens; they're described as young men. And they're facing a very serious indictment levying war against the United States.

And in detail, one of them is named Narseal Batiste. And the indictment says that he was planning for a mission to wage war against the United States by trying to obtain money and support from al-Qaida. He got in touch with what he thought was a member of al-Qaida and asked him for boots, uniforms, machine guns, radios and vehicles, and $50,000 in cash. We don't have the full indictment right now, so we don't know whether or not he, in fact, was in touch with al-Qaida or whether or not a government informant entrapped him. We're going to find that out a little bit later when Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez talks about these charges.

INSKEEP: Which gets to an essential question here, or an important question anyway, whether these people really are part of al-Qaida or not.

ABRAMSON: Right. Well, the early reports are that the government did not seize any explosives or guns so we don't know how far along this plot was. It may have just been in the conspiracy stage. The early indications that I got from talking with people was that this was not a full-blown attempt to actually enact a plot, it was a conspiracy to enact a plot. And, of course, the government has been criticized in the past for only going after basically failed attempts, not getting the most serious terrorists who are out there, only getting people who had an idea that they wanted to do something but didn't really have the means to do it.

INSKEEP: So now we're learning more about this indictment and these arrests at the same time that we are learning about another development in the war on terror, a tool that the U.S. government has been using to track the finances of suspected terrorists. What are you learning about that?

ABRAMSON: What we know, Steve, is that a number of news organizations came on this apparently at the same time, and they uncovered what the Bush administration is referring to as a terrorist financing tool.

What the tool did was basically search through a database known as SWIFT. It's based in Belgium and it handles billions of financial transactions every year for nearly 8,000 banks. And basically, this allowed investigators to take a name, search through the database for that name. They said that they were only going after names that they knew were linked to al-Qaida, and the idea was to step up the pressure on financing of terrorism by searching through this huge database of financial transactions.

INSKEEP: Did they get a search warrant?

ABRAMSON: No, they didn't. They were able to use a type of administrative subpoena; that's something the government can issue on its own, without judicial oversight. Ordinarily, you're right, you would have to get a search warrant or a subpoena, which has court oversight, in order to get access to these records. And that's going to raise questions about whether or not this program infringed on people's civil liberties. Because, invariably, when you launch these kinds of wide-ranging searches, you're going to search the records of some innocent people. However, Secretary of the Treasury John Snow said this is not a fishing expedition, he said it is rather a sharp harpoon aimed at the heart of terrorist activity.

INSKEEP: Are there similarities, and differences as well, between this program and the National Security Agency's warrantless surveillance program that you've been reporting on.

ABRAMSON: They're similar in that there's a limited or no court oversight for both programs. I think the big difference is that communications in this country enjoy extraordinary privacy privileges. You have to have the highest order of court order to get access to communications. Financial transactions, actually, are reported on quite regularly to the government. The government has access, particularly in this case the president relied on emergency economic authority that he can invoke and used after 9/11.

INSKEEP: Larry, thanks very much.

ABRAMSON: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Larry Abramson.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Seven Indicted in Alleged U.S. Terror Plot

WASHINGTON (AP) — A group of young men seized in a Miami warehouse have been charged in a federal indictment with conspiring with al-Qaida to "levy war against the United States" by committing acts of violence including blowing up Chicago's Sears Tower.

The seven individuals indicted by a federal grand jury were taken into custody Thursday when authorities swarmed the warehouse in the Liberty City area, removing a metal door with a blow torch. The indictment also alleges plans to blow a federal building in Miami in conjunction with the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and other top-level Bush administration officials scheduled a news conference for later Friday and a similar briefing was in Miami. The seven were expected to appear in court later Friday.

According to the indictment handed up Thursday, a young man identified as Narseal Batiste, beginning in November 2005, recruited and trained the others "for a mission to wage war against the United States government," including a plot to destroy the Sears Tower.

To obtain money and support for their mission, the conspirators sought help from al-Qaida, pledged an oath to the terrorist organization and supported an al-Qaida plot to destroy FBI buildings, the four-count indictment charged.

Batiste met several times in December 2005 with a person purporting to be an al-Qaida member and asked for boots, uniforms, machine guns, radios, vehicles and $50,000 in cash to help him build an "'Islamic Army' to wage jihad'," the indictment said. It said that Batiste said he would use his "soldiers" to destroy the Sears Tower.

In February 2006, it said, Batiste told the "al-Qaida representative" that he and his five soldiers wanted to attend al-Qaida training and planned a "full ground war" against the United States in order to "kill all the devils we can." His mission would "be just as good or greater than 9/11," the indictment accused Batiste of boasting.

The seven defendants were charged with conspiring to "maliciously damage and destroy by means of an explosive" the FBI building in North Miami Beach and the Sears Tower in Chicago.

They were are also charged with conspiring "to levy war against the government of the United States, and to oppose by force the authority thereof."

Residents living near the warehouse said the men taken into custody described themselves as Muslims and had tried to recruit young people to join their group. Rose said they tried to recruit her younger brother and nephew for a karate class.

She said she talked to one of the men about a month ago. "They seemed brainwashed," she said. "They said they had given their lives to Allah."

Residents said FBI agents spent several hours in the neighborhood showing photos of the suspects and seeking information. They said the men had lived in the area for about a year.

Benjamin Williams, 17, said the group sometimes had young children with them. At times, he added, the men "would cover their faces. Sometimes they would wear things on their heads, like turbans."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.