Gonzales: 'Homegrown Terrorists' Plotted Attacks

In a Washington news conference, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales outlines an alleged plot to bomb the Sears Tower in Chicago and a federal building in Miami. Seven men are being held in connection with the allegations. Gonzales calls the men "homegrown terrorists."

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

We have an update now on a story we're following this morning. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez says seven men arrested yesterday in Miami were homegrown terrorists who sought an alliance with al-Qaida to blow up buildings in the United States.

Attorney General ALBERTO GONZALEZ: (United States Attorney General) These individuals wished to wage a, quote, "full ground war" against the United States. That quote is from the investigation of these individuals, who also allegedly stated the desire to, quote, "kill all the devils we can." They hoped for their attacks to be, quote, "just as good or greater than 9/11."

WERTHEIMER: Attorney General Gonzalez speaking today in Washington. NPR's Larry Abramson is following this story, and he joins me now.

Larry, what can you tell us about these men and the charges against them?

LARRY ABRAMSON reporting:

Well, of the seven men, Linda, five of them are U.S. citizens, and they were rounded up in a raid last night in the Liberty City area of Miami. They're now facing four different counts for conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists, conspiracy to levy war against the United States, and also conspiracy to damage buildings by explosive device, because, apparently, they were discussing a plot to bomb Federal Bureau of Investigation buildings in five different cities.

Now, what happened was the leader of this group, Narseal Batiste, started to meet with what he thought was a representative of al-Qaida last December and began to discuss with him his plans to blow up buildings, to attack the United States. This Narseal Batiste swore allegiance to al-Qaida in front of this man, who he thought was a representative of al-Qaida; in fact, he was working with the FBI and basically served to throw out the bait to lure these people in.

They continued to meet. The purported al-Qaida representative offered them support; they basically gave him a shopping list - sizes of different military boots that they wanted for their mission. They went out and did reconnaissance of the FBI buildings and also were planning to do reconnaissance of the Sears Tower in Chicago, all with an eye toward destroying these buildings.

WERTHEIMER: But actually how far along was the plot, can you tell?

ABRAMSON: Well, the Deputy Director of the FBI, John Pistole, said that the plot was really more aspirational than operational. In other words, they talked about it, they did some things in preparation, like gathering videotape and doing reconnaissance, but they didn't apparently buy any explosives, buy any guns; nothing was seized. So they didn't really appear to have the tools. And there was a lot of back and forth with the reporters about whether or not they actually had the ability to carry out this plot. Attorney General Gonzalez said, we didn't want to wait until they had the ability to do it; we wanted to move in as quickly as we possibly could.

WERTHEIMER: And they were charged under a new section of the anti-terrorism law, which covers precisely that.

ABRAMSON: That's right. It's all conspiracy to provide support, and is basically the idea that if you offer anything to al-Qaida, you are helping the terrorists. Of course, they didn't actually give al-Qaida anything, because this guy wasn't an al-Qaida representative.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Larry Abramson. Larry, thank you very much.

ABRAMSON: You're welcome, Linda.

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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.

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