MIAMI (Reuters) - A U.S. jury found five men guilty on Tuesday of plotting with al Qaeda to blow up Chicago’s Sears Tower and government buildings after two previous attempts to convict the group ended in mistrials.
The jury acquitted a sixth man in a case that was touted nearly three years ago as a major blow against terrorism and a victory in the government’s efforts to dismantle domestic “sleeper cells.”
The guilty verdicts in a trial that lasted nearly three months came after prosecutors tried and failed twice in the last two years to persuade juries that the men conspired with the Islamic militant group to wage holy war against the United States.
Federal agents arrested the men, who became known as the Liberty City Six after the poor Miami neighborhood where they met, in June 2006.
At the time, authorities said the plot was “aspirational rather than operational,” and that the men posed no real threat because they had neither al Qaeda contacts nor the means of carrying out attacks.
But during the trial, prosecutors accused them of pledging allegiance to Osama bin Laden’s militants.
Basing the case on thousands of hours of wiretaps, the prosecutors said ringleader Narseal Batiste had recruited soldiers who wore uniforms, marched together and engaged in military training to wage war on the United States.
They said the men took photos of possible targets, scouting Miami’s FBI headquarters and a courthouse, surveying entry ramps, surveillance cameras and guardhouses.
According to the prosecution, Batiste suggested an attack on the Sears Tower, America’s tallest skyscraper.
Defense lawyers said the alleged plot was concocted by the government with the help of informants who posed as Middle Eastern contacts. They said the accused went along in a bid to extract money from the informants.
Batiste was convicted on all four charges; conspiring to provide material support to al Qaeda, conspiring to provide material support to an act of terrorism, conspiring to destroy a building and conspiring to wage war against the United States. He faces up to 70 years in prison.
The jury also found Patrick Abraham guilty on three of the counts. He could face up to 50 years in prison.
The panel returned guilty verdicts on two counts against Stanley Grant Phanor, Burson Augustin and Rotschild Augustine, who each face 30 years in prison.
Sentencing was set for July 27.
The sixth man, Naudimar Herrera, was acquitted of all charges.
Reporting by Jim Loney; Editing by Pascal Fletcher