Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Friday that seven young men arrested in Miami were part of a group of "homegrown terrorists" who sought to work with al-Qaida but ended up consorting instead with a law enforcement informant.
Outlining an alleged plot to bomb the Sears Tower in Chicago and a federal building in Miami, Gonzales told a Justice Department news conference: "They were persons who for whatever reason came to view their home country as the enemy."
The seven individuals - ranging in age from 22 to 32 - were indicted by a federal grand jury in Miami and taken into custody Thursday when authorities swarmed a warehouse in the Liberty City area, removing a metal door with a blow torch.
The alleged terrorists - five U.S. citizens, a legal immigrant from Haiti and a Haitian national who was in this country illegally - were expected to appear in federal court in Miami later Friday. They had taken an oath to al-Qaida and sought help from someone they believed was a member of the terrorist organization, the indictment alleged.
Said Gonzales: "The convergence of globalization and technology has created a new brand of terrorism. Today terrorist threats come from smaller more loosely defined cells not affiliated with al-Qaida but who are inspired by a violent jihadist message, and left unchecked these homegrown terrorists may prove to be as dangerous as groups like al-Qaida."
Gonzales outlined the contents of an indictment handed up Thursday, which identified Narseal Batiste as having recruited and trained others beginning in November 2005 "for a mission to wage war against the United States government," including a plot to destroy the Sears Tower.
To obtain money and support for their mission, the conspirators sought help from al-Qaida, pledged an oath to the terrorist organization and supported an al-Qaida plot to destroy FBI buildings, the four-count indictment charged.
Batiste met several times in December 2005 with a person purporting to be an al-Qaida member and asked for boots, uniforms, machine guns, radios, vehicles and $50,000 in cash to help him build an "'Islamic Army' to wage jihad'," the indictment said. It said that Batiste said he would use his "soldiers" to destroy the Sears Tower.
Gonzales said "the individual they thought was a member of al-Qaida was present at their meetings and in actuality he was working with the South Florida Joint Terrorism Task Force."
In February 2006, it said, Batiste told the "al-Qaida representative" that he and his five soldiers wanted to attend al-Qaida training and planned a "full ground war" against the United States in order to "kill all the devils we can." His mission would "be just as good or greater than 9/11," the indictment accused Batiste of boasting.
The seven defendants were charged with conspiring to "maliciously damage and destroy by means of an explosive" the FBI building in North Miami Beach and the Sears Tower in Chicago.
They were are also charged with conspiring "to levy war against the government of the United States, and to oppose by force the authority thereof."
Residents living near the warehouse said the men taken into custody described themselves as Muslims and had tried to recruit young people to join their group. Tashawn Rose, 29, said they tried to recruit her younger brother and nephew for a karate class.
She said she talked to one of the men about a month ago. "They seemed brainwashed," she said. "They said they had given their lives to Allah."