THE WISDOM FUND: News & Views
June 25, 2006
The Independent

Sears Tower Plot Was Not All That It Seemed

The plan uncovered by the FBI last week proved little more than wishful thinking. But could it be a sign of worse to come?

by Rupert Cornwell

The alarming news flashed across America's TV screens on Thursday evening: government agents had thwarted an al-Qa'ida plot, using home-grown American terrorists, to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago in a ghastly repeat of 9/11.

When the dust had settled barely 24 hours later, a rather more modest version of events had emerged. The seven young black men arrested at a warehouse in Miami and Atlanta had never been in touch with al-Qa'ida, and had no explosives. Their "plan" to destroy America's tallest building was little more than wishful thinking, expressed by one of them to an FBI informant purporting to be a member of Osama bin Laden's terrorist organisation.

Even the FBI admitted as much. John Pistole, the bureau's deputy director, described the plan on Friday as "aspirational rather than operational" and admitted that none of the seven (five US citizens and two Haitian immigrants) had ever featured on a terrorist watch list.

In essence, the entire case rests upon conversations between Narseal Baptiste, the apparent ringleader of the group, with the informant, who was posing as a member of al-Qa'ida but in fact belonged to the South Florida Terrorist Task Force. . . .

Even their religious leanings are in dispute. Neighbours say they were part of a group, called Seas of David, that mixes Christian and Islamic elements. . . .

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Duncan Campbell, "The Bush dynasty and the Cuban criminals," Guardian, December 2, 2002

Julian Borger, "US Extremists To Be Sentenced Over Bomb Plot," Guardian, January 8, 2004

[ . . . the arsenal to carry out these plans included a cargo helicopter, 10 ultralight radio-controlled planes, seven vessels and abundant explosive materials.--Wilfredo Cancio Isla, "Exile: We plotted attacks on Cuba," Miami Herald, June 22, 2006]

[Relatives described the defendants as deeply religious people who studied the Bible and took classes in Islam. Joseph Phanor, the father of defendant Stanley Grant Phanor, said his son went to classes on Islam with a friend but that he read the Bible at his father's house.--Curt Anderson, "FBI: Would-be terrorists sought help from al-Qaida in plot to blow up Sears Tower," Associated Press, June 24, 2006]

[Family members and friends of two of the men, Lemorin and Phanor, had not seen the photos but said Friday their loved ones were incapable of harming anyone. Batiste, they said, showed up on their street one day wearing a long robe, a skull cap and bearing a bible and an intriguing promise to study the Holy Book and martial arts.--Maya Bell, "Indictment reveals little hard evidence of terrorist plot," Orlando Sentinel, June 23, 2006]

[For longtime observers of political terrorism in South Florida, the aggressive reaction to what may have been the Miami group's loose talk about violence, possibly spurred by an FBI informant posing as an al-Qaeda operative, stands in marked contrast to the US government's see-no-evil approach to notorious Cuban terrorists who have lived openly in Miami for decades.--Robert Parry, "Terrorists in Miami, Oh My!," Consortium News, June 24, 2006]

"Miami bomb plot suspects 'entrapped,' lawyers say," Reuters, June 26, 2006

[Without the FBI informant, it would have been more fantasy than inspiration.--Arnaud de Borchgrave, "Entrapment -- or 9/11 redux?," UPI, June 26, 2006]

[But lawyers for the defendants have raised questions about where a government sting ends and entrapment begins. Not only did government informants provide money and a meeting place for Batiste and his followers, but they also gave them video cameras for conducting surveillance, as well as cellphones, and suggested that their first target be a Miami FBI office, court records show..--Walter Pincus, "FBI Role in Terror Probe Questioned," Washington Post, September 2, 2006]

"1 acquitted, 6 to be retried, in alleged terror plot," CNN, December 13, 2007

[Batiste's attorney, Ana M. Jhones, accused the Bush administration and FBI of looking to "set people up" on overblown charges in their zeal to make a high-profile terrorism case. She said Batiste faked interest in terrorism to con a government informant posing as an al-Qaida operative out of $50,000.--Curt Anderson, "Prosecutor: War Goal of Fla. Terror Plot," Associated Press, March 26, 2008]

Curt Anderson, "Deadlocked jury forces 2nd mistrial in Miami terrorism case," Associated Press, April 16, 2008

Jay Weaver, "5 convicted - after two mistrials," McClatchy Newspapers, May 13, 2009

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