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Posted Friday, March 7, 2008
Defense begins in Liberty City retrial of terrorism suspects; each faces 70 years in prison, if convicted
By Curt Anderson, Associated Press Writer

MIAMI - The defense opened its case Thursday in the retrial of six men accused of plotting to destroy Chicago's Sears Tower and bomb FBI offices, with witnesses describing the alleged ringleader as a hardworking construction contractor who struggled to pay bills.

The attorney for 34-year-old Narseal Batiste is trying to lay the groundwork for claims that he faked interest in the terrorist plots in an effort to wrangle $50,000 from a man he thought was an al-Qaida emissary. That man, known as Brother Mohammed, was actually an FBI informant.

The owner of a Broward County construction equipment rental company, Jesus Serna, was among several witnesses who said Batiste was a frequent customer but not always timely on his payments.

"Sometimes he didn't have the money, but I would give him credit," Serna said.

The first trial in the so-called "Liberty City Seven" case ended in a mistrial in December when jurors could not agree on verdicts for six of the men; they acquitted a seventh defendant. Prosecutors wrapped up their case in the second trial Wednesday after more than a month of testimony.

The men are accused of plotting with the informant to topple the 110-story Sears Tower and bomb FBI offices in Miami and other major cities. One key piece of evidence is an FBI videotape showing the group pledging loyalty to al-Qaida in a ceremony led by the informant.

Each defendant faces up to 70 years in prison if convicted of four terrorism-related charges, including conspiracy to wage war against the U.S.

Evidence in the prosecution case showed that while Batiste was busy on construction jobs, he also led a sect known as the Moorish Science Temple that blends elements of several religions and considers itself separate from the U.S. government. His five co-defendants were portrayed as his followers who were training in martial arts and other military skills.

The defense says Batiste was only after money, and contends the FBI entrapped his group through overzealous efforts to make a big terrorism case. The group never obtained any explosives or weapons.

The man acquitted in the first trial, 33-year-old Lyglenson Lemorin, remains in U.S. immigration custody facing deportation to his native Haiti based on the same terrorism allegations.

Copyright © 2008 The Associated Press

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