Sunday, July 08, 2007

Statements to FBI Key in Liberty City Seven Terror Case against Florida group accused of plotting Chicago attack

Associated Press
Friday, July 6, 2007
Full story:

Excerpts: Statements given to the FBI by six of the seven Florida men accused of plotting to destroy Chicago's Sears Tower and other buildings show that some did not believe they were joining up with al-Qaida and others were motivated by money rather than Islamic radicalism.

Some were clearly bewildered by what had happened to them. ... The FBI statements by six group members are key pieces of evidence in a case scheduled to go to trial this fall. The group, known as the "Liberty City Seven" after the poor Miami neighborhood in which they lived, has been in custody since their arrests over a year ago on charges of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and conspiring to wage war against the United States. ... Authorities have said their purported plot never moved beyond the preliminary stages and the group never possessed explosives or other weapons to carry it out, but insist the men were serious about their intentions. The seven men have pleaded not guilty to charges that carry combined maximum sentences of some 70 years in federal prison.

Defense attorneys are asking a federal judge to throw out their statements to the FBI, mainly over claims they were not truly voluntary or that some defendants asked for lawyers but were interrogated without one present. ... The alleged ringleader, 33-year-old Narseal Batiste, told the FBI that he only played along with joining al-Qaida so he could extort as much as $50,000 (€36,775) from Mohammed.

Much of the evidence consists of FBI audio and video surveillance, including the al-Qaida allegiance or "bayat" ceremony staged by Mohammed on March 10, 2006, at a warehouse the group used as a headquarters. "I thought it was a joke and I didn't take it serious," said Rotschild Augustine, 23, in a written statement to the FBI. ... Prosecutors scoff at such claims, noting in court papers that members of the group later discussed a plot to conduct coordinated attacks against FBI buildings in five cities and use land Batiste's family owned in Louisiana as a training camp. ... Defendant Burson Augustin, 22, told the FBI that the group was part of the Moorish Science Temple religious sect, which blends elements of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Augustin said some group members "shared the vision of taking over the United States" and did not recognize the authority of the U.S. government.

Members of the group would often go paintball shooting as a form of military training in woods south of Miami...

Like Batiste, Augustin said he only pledged loyalty to al-Qaida to get money and that he agreed to take photos of the FBI building in Miami to go "above and beyond" the request from Mohammed.But there was also sometimes discussion of overthrowing the U.S. government, defendant Patrick Abraham told the FBI. Abraham, 27, also said he suggested that Mohammed be investigated by the group ... "Abraham attended several meetings with Batiste and Brother Mohammed where Batiste discussed a plan to take down the Sears Tower in Chicago and wage war with the U.S. government," the FBI summary of Abraham's interview said.