'Miami Seven' Set Up by Informant, Defense Claims

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A federal judge ruled Wednesday that six men arrested in Miami last month on terrorism conspiracy charges will remain in jail until their trial. However, defense attorneys say the group, which includes another man in custody in Atlanta, had no links to al-Qaida and may have been set up by a government informant. Miami Herald reporter Jay Weaver talks with Madeline Brand about the status of the case.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Two weeks ago today, federal authorities announced another alleged terrorist plot. Seven men were arrested in Miami, accused of plotting to blow up Chicago's Sears Tower. They allegedly photographed and videotaped targets in other cities, and they were recorded pledging a loyalty oath to al-Qaida.

It turns out, though, that they had no contacts with al-Qaida, and an FBI official admitted that the group's plan was more aspirational than operational. Here to catch us up on this story is Miami Herald Reporter Jay Weaver, and welcome to the program.

Mr. JAY WEAVER (Reporter, Miami Herald): Hi, how are you?

BRAND: Fine, thank you. Well, where are the suspects now and what have they been charged with?

Mr. WEAVER: Well, they are in the Miami federal detention center, which is right next to the courthouse where they have pleaded not guilty to these terrorism conspiracy charges. And a magistrate judge this week ordered that they be detained because he considered them a danger to the community. He said that the charges were very serious, the evidence was very significant, and the allegations were very disturbing.

BRAND: And what do their lawyers say?

Mr. WEAVER: Their lawyers basically said the government's case was essentially one of entrapment, where the two FBI informants, one of whom was posing as an al-Qaida operative, manipulated these men into a fictitious terror plot in which they were going to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago and some, you know, local federal building targets in Miami, as well as FBI buildings in five cities, including Miami.

BRAND: So the lawyers are arguing that, basically, these men weren't plotting anything until these informants came along?

Mr. WEAVER: That's true. In fact, there's been defenses put up that these men were really young, a few had children, most don't, struggling to get by, that fell under the sway of their leader, this man named Batiste. And he was part of the Moorish Science Temple, which has its roots going back a century, and that it's a mixture of different Christian, Judaism, and Islam ideas, and that it was his idea to basically try to help these men, employ them, and to teach them about forming a new nation within the United States of America, and that the terror plot was really something cooked up by the government to, you know, implicate them in a fictitious plot.

BRAND: So perhaps it's a case of this man, Batiste, having some delusions of grandeur in leading this group, and then the rest of them kind of, you know, poor, misguided, rag-tag followers.

Mr. WEAVER: Well, it's absolutely apt, the way you put that. I think there are delusions of grandeur here, because what blew this whole case up, ultimately, was a falling out between Batiste and this leader in the Moorish Science Temple out of Chicago, with the name Sultan Khanbey. And believe it or not, when Khanbey came down to Miami in April to discuss this alleged plot to blow up the Sears Tower, he actually had a falling out with Batiste, the ringleader, because he was accusing him of allowing the FBI to infiltrate the organization.

The Sultan actually held a "trial," quote, with charges of treason against Batiste. And then, after he was found guilty, believe it or not, there was actually a shooting incident in which the sultan shot at a sympathizer and friend of Batiste. So that's what actually blew up. The Sultan was arrested. He's now a cooperating witness for the federal government. He could have been a co-defendant. And the magistrate judge, in fact, asked the prosecutor why didn't you charge him as a co-conspirator? She wouldn't comment, but then she ultimately said, Judge, he didn't take the oath.

So it ultimately comes down to who took the oath to al-Qaida, albeit a kind of fictitious ceremony led by the government's FBI informant. Nonetheless, you have them taking the oath, and then committing to, you know, certain acts of, you know, planned violence against the United States, specifically the Sears Tower and the FBI buildings.

BRAND: Jay Weaver, a reporter for the Miami Herald, speaking to us about the alleged terrorist plot of the so-called Miami Seven.

Thank you, Jay.

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