Sears Tower plot ringleader sentenced
Was convicted with four others on terror charges
MIAMI - The ringleader of a group described by prosecutors as plotting terror attacks on Chicago’s Sears Tower and FBI offices in hopes of sparking an anti-government insurrection was sentenced yesterday to 13 1/2 years in prison by a federal judge.
Narseal Batiste, 35, dabbed at his eyes with a tissue when US District Judge Joan Lenard wondered in court how he was transformed from a hardworking family man struggling to build an inner-city construction business to the unquestioned leader of a quasi-religious, paramilitary group seeking support from Al Qaeda for terrorism.
“You’ve done great harm to yourself, your family, the young men who were your followers, and you’ve violated the trust of your country,’’ Lenard said.
Batiste, who faced a maximum of 70 years in prison, was convicted in May of conspiracy to provide material support to Al Qaeda, plotting to blow up buildings and conspiracy to wage war against the United States. Four other men described as Batiste’s soldiers were also convicted and sentenced to between six and 10 years behind bars.
The sentencing yesterday marked the culmination of a case that began with an FBI raid in June 2006 on the group’s warehouse in Miami’s impoverished Liberty City neighborhood. Top US officials acknowledged at the time that the Sears Tower and FBI plots never got past the discussion stage and the group never acquired the means to carry out such audacious attacks.
The case was viewed as a prime example of the post-9/11 law enforcement strategy of stopping terror plots in the earliest possible stages, before the proverbial fuse is lit.
“We shouldn’t have to wait for people to be harmed to punish these people for their desire to inflict harm,’’ said Assistant US Attorney Jacqueline Arango.
But critics, including Batiste attorney Ana M. Jhones, called it an overblown case of FBI entrapment. “No one in the United States was ever in any danger. There were absolutely no steps taken to wage war,’’ she said.
The conviction was built on dozens of FBI recordings, mainly of meetings between Batiste and an FBI informant posing as an emissary from Al Qaeda. One key piece of evidence was a ceremony in which Batiste and his followers each pledged loyalty to Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.