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Jury Deadlock Ends Terror Trial in Miami

The Liberty City Seven join some dozen other terrorism defendants whose cases have resulted in acquittals and mistrials since Sept. 11.

By / December 14, 2007

A Federal judge in Miami declared a mistrial Thursday after a jury failed to reach a verdict in the trial of six men accused in 2006 of plotting to bomb the Sears Tower in Chicago and several other government buildings. A seventh suspect was acquitted in what analysts describe as a setback for the US government's domestic counterterrorism program. Jury selection for a retrial of the other six suspects will start next month.

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The case against the so-called Liberty City Seven, named after the neighborhood in Miami where they met, was a preemptive prosecution, as they posed no immediate security threat at the time of arrest. A government official described the alleged terrorists as "more aspirational than operational." Defense lawyers argued in court that paid FBI informants who infiltrated the homegrown group were strung along for money for an Al Qaeda terror plot that never existed.

Prosecutors said the suspects were recorded on tape boasting that they wanted to join Al Qaeda on "a mission that would be as good or greater than 9/11," the Guardian reported.

Based on thousands of hours of audio and video recordings, including one that showed some of the men taking an oath of allegiance to al-Qaida, the government case argued that the group planned to sow chaos by poisoning salt cellars in restaurants and blowing up buildings, and wanted to obtain equipment including machine guns, a rocket launcher, military uniforms and bullet-proof vests.

The Associated Press reports that after nine days of deliberation, the jury sent a note to the judge on Thursday that said it was deadlocked and unable to make progress on the charges against six of the men. The judge read out the note in court and declared a mistrial.

Outside the courtroom, jury foreman Jeff Agron said the group took four votes but was split roughly evenly between guilt and innocence for the other six men. They spent hours viewing and listening to FBI recordings of meetings and conversations involving Batiste and the others, he said.
"People have different takes on what they saw, on what was said and what that meant," said Agron, 46, a teacher and lawyer. "My personal belief is that there may have been sufficient evidence on some of them as to some of the counts."

The acquitted man was an immigrant from Haiti, while others in the group came from the Dominican Republic. All were members of a sect called the Moorish Science Temple that blended Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.

The group first came under suspicion in 2005, reports The New York Times, when a Yemeni man reported them to the FBI as seeking to make contact with Al Qaeda. During an eight-month investigation, the bureau used wiretaps and hidden cameras to gather evidence against the men. This included a recording of Narseal Batiste, the leader of the group, discussing plans for a "ground war" in the US.

What the recordings did not show were military weapons, explosives or blueprints for a terrorist plot, although prosecutors said the group's preparations included surveillance photos of federal buildings in Miami, wish lists of weapons and military equipment, and a request for $50,000 from Al Qaeda that Mr. Batiste gave to an undercover F.B.I. agent.
Defense lawyers said the men were simply playing along with an F.B.I.-engineered ruse to get money to pay for a community center and Mr. Batiste's construction business.