Jury deliberates on Sears Tower terror plot case

MIAMI (AP) – Jurors began deliberations Monday on charges against seven men accused of conspiring to destroy Chicago’s Sears Tower and blow up FBI offices in an attempt to start an anti-government insurrection.

The members of the so-called “Liberty City Seven” face sentences of up to 70 years in prison if convicted of four terrorism-related conspiracy charges, including plotting to wage war on the United States and attempting to provide material support to al-Qaida.

The jury got the case following a two-month trial.

In closing arguments, a prosecutor underscored allegations that 33-year-old Narseal Batiste was the leader of a home-grown terrorist cell hoping to get help from a man claiming to be an al-Qaida operative.

“This is the fanatic, ladies and gentlemen, and the soldiers who follow his word,” Assistant U.S. Attorney General Richard Gregorie said.

Batiste testified that he was only trying to dupe the informant out of $50,000, and defense attorneys have said little evidence ties the six other defendants to the alleged plot.

One of the key pieces of evidence, an FBI videotape, showed a March 2006 ceremony in which all seven took an oath of loyalty to al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden.

The alleged plots never got beyond the planning stage, but Batiste was overheard on hundreds of other FBI audio and video recordings describing elements of the attacks and the war that would follow.

During their closing arguments last week, several defense attorneys suggested the case was blown far out of proportion as the Bush administration sought terrorism convictions at all costs in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Prosecutors repeatedly mentioned those attacks and focused sharply on a recording in which Batiste claims his plan would be “as good or greater than 9/11.”