By Jim Loney
MIAMI, Nov 29 (Reuters) - A band of domestic terrorists tried to forge an alliance with al Qaeda to blow up Chicago’s Sears Tower and overthrow the U.S. government, a federal prosecutor said on Thursday in closing arguments at a Miami terrorism trial.
The seven men took oaths of allegiance to Osama bin Laden’s Islamist militant organization as part of a plan to sow chaos in the United States and wage war against the government, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacqueline Arango told jurors as the 10-week trial drew near an end.
Defense lawyers have argued the plot was scripted by U.S. government informants. The group’s suspected ringleader, Narseal Batiste, testified he was trying to con the informants out of money to support an inner-city religious sect.
But Arango, who opened her final argument to the 12-member federal jury with a video of the suspects taking an al Qaeda oath, said Batiste was trying to build an army because he did not consider the U.S. government legitimate and tried to forge an "unholy alliance" with al Qaeda.
"They had the same goal and that’s the destruction of the United States," Arango said.
The Liberty City Seven, named for the poor part of Miami where they gathered in a rundown warehouse, were arrested in 2006 on charges of plotting to overthrow the U.S. government, blow up the 110-story Sears Tower -- the tallest U.S. skyscraper -- along with several FBI offices and the Miami federal court complex where they are being tried.
The young men each face up to 70 years in prison if convicted on all four conspiracy counts in a case government officials have touted as an important battle in the war against terrorism.
Federal agents said when the men were arrested that the group’s plans were "aspirational rather than operational" and posed no real threat because they had neither al Qaeda contacts nor the means of carrying out attacks.
Batiste testified he never asked al Qaeda for money and made up stories of plotting to bring down the Sears Tower as he pretended to go along with the informants to con them out of $50,000.
He wanted the money, he said, to build a nonprofit religious organization and community outreach program in depressed Liberty City.
‘AS GOOD OR GREATER THAN 9/11’
But Arango said Batiste began thinking about the vulnerability of the Sears Tower to an attack when he worked as a FedEx delivery man in Chicago’s Loop area.
She told jurors that Batiste plotted with the government informants to obtain machine guns, a rocket launcher, military uniforms, bullet-proof vests and other gear to build an army.
"They needed to create chaos and confusion to do what they needed to do," she said.
Arango said the seven men conspired to join with al Qaeda on "a mission that would be just as good or greater than 9/11," referring to something Batiste was suspected of saying in reference to the al Qaeda attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.
She implored the jury to return a verdict that would send a message "the government need not wait until buildings come down or people get shot to prove people are terrorists."
In addition to Batiste, the group included defendants Patrick Abraham, Stanley Grant Phanor, Naudimar Herrera, Burson Augustin, Lyglenson Lemorin and Rotschild Augustine. (Editing by Michael Christie and Peter Cooney)