SEVEN FLORIDA MEN CHARGED WITH CONSPIRING TO SUPPORT AL QAEDA, ATTACK
WASHINGTON – Seven Florida men have been arrested on charges that include conspiring to provide material support to the al Qaeda terrorist organization and conspiracy to levy war against the United States by discussing and planning attacks on targets in the United States, including the Sears Tower in Chicago and the FBI building and other federal buildings in Florida, the Department of Justice announced today.
The seven men – Narseal Batiste, Patrick Abraham, Stanley Grant Phanor, Naudimar Herrera, Burson Augustin, Lyblenson Lemorin and Rothschild Augustine – were named in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Florida (Miami). The indictment charges four counts: conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, namely al Qaeda; conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists; conspiracy to maliciously damage and destroy by means of an explosive; and conspiring to levy war against the government of the United States.
The defendants – five U.S. citizens, one legal permanent resident, and one Haitian national in the country illegally – have all been arrested and are expected to make appearances at U.S. District Court in Miami today.
The indictment alleges that, beginning in November 2005 and continuing to the present, Bastiste recruited and supervised individuals to organize and train for a mission to wage war against the United States, including a plot to destroy the Sears Tower by explosives. Batiste and his co-conspirators allegedly attempted to obtain the support of al Qaeda to achieve their goals and discussed this desire with an individual cooperating with law enforcement who posed as a member of al Qaeda. Believing they were dealing with that terrorist group, in March 2006, Batiste and other defendants pledged an oath of allegiance to al Qaeda and allegedly supported a plan to destroy FBI buildings in the United States by taking photos of the FBI Building in North Miami Beach, Florida, and other federal buildings in Miami-Dade County.
Batiste then allegedly took reconnaissance photographs of the FBI Building in North Miami Beach, the James Lawrence King Federal Justice Building, federal courthouse buildings, the Federal Detention Center and the Miami Police Department. In addition to conducting surveillance, the defendants allegedly provided the individual, whom they believed was an al Qaeda member, with a list of materials and equipment needed to wage jihad, including boots, uniforms, machine guns, radios and vehicles. In December 2005, at one of a number of meetings with this person, Batiste spoke of using an army of “soldiers” and explosives to destroy the Sears Tower. In a subsequent meeting, he provided the individual with a list of other materials needed in his plot to take down the Sears Tower, including radios, binoculars, bullet proof vests, firearms, vehicles and $50,000 cash.
According to the indictment, the plot advanced further through meetings with other co-defendants. In one of the meetings on Feb. 19, 2006, Batiste allegedly told the “al Qaeda representative” that he wanted to attend al Qaeda training with five of his soldiers, with a mission to wage a “full ground war” against the United States in order to “kill all the devils we can,” which “will be just as good or greater than 9/11.” Ultimately, all seven of the defendants allegedly swore bayat, or an oath of loyalty to al Qaeda.
“The convergence of globalization and technology has created a new brand of terrorism. Homegrown terrorists may prove to be as dangerous as groups like al Qaeda,” said Attorney General Gonzales. “I am pleased by the cooperation among federal, state and local law enforcement in taking down this group of individuals who wished to harm our country and its citizens.”
U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta of the Southern District of Florida stated, “Batiste and his group had the intent and took several steps toward fulfilling their plan of blowing up the Sears Tower and the Miami FBI building. They were never able to obtain, however, the explosives or access needed to implement their plan. The South Florida Joint Terrorism Task Force successfully performed its mission to prevent terrorism by identifying, disrupting and prosecuting these individuals before they posed an immediate threat to our nation.”
FBI Deputy Director John S. Pistole said, “Today’s announcement marks yet another important victory in the war on terrorism. It is also, however, a grim reminder of the persistent threat environment that exists here at home and underscores the need for continued vigilance and cooperation. I’d like to commend all the members on our Joint Terrorism Task Forces who work tirelessly day and night to interdict these threats and hold accountable those who seek to inflict harm on the U.S.”
If convicted, the defendants in this case face a maximum penalty of 15 years each in prison on the charges of conspiracy to provide material support or resources, and a maximum of 20 years in prison each on the charges of conspiracy to destroy by use of explosives and conspiracy to levy war against the United States.
The arrests are the result of an investigation led by the FBI’s South Florida Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) in Miami. The JTTF is comprised of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies whose primary work is to identify and disrupt terrorist cells before they commit acts of terror. Members of the JTTF include the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida; the FBI; U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement; U.S. Secret Service; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Internal Revenue Service; the Bureau of Prisons; the Florida Department of Law Enforcement; Miami Dade Police Department; City of Miami Police Department; Broward Sheriff’s Office; Palm Beach County’s Sheriff’s Office; Ft. Lauderdale Police Department; Hollywood Police Department; and the Miramar Police Department.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jacqueline Arango and Richard Getchell of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.
PREPARED REMARKS OF ATTORNEY GENERAL ALBERTO R. GONZALES AT THE PRESS CONFERENCE
I’m joined today by FBI Deputy Director John Pistole and Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher of the Criminal Division.
The convergence of globalization and technology has created a new brand of terrorism. Today, terrorist threats may come from smaller, more loosely-defined cells who are not affiliated with al Qaeda, but who are inspired by a violent jihadist message. Left unchecked, these homegrown terrorists may prove to be as dangerous as groups like al Qaeda.
Recent events around the world have demonstrated the challenges posed by homegrown terrorists who live in the area they intend to attack. The terrorists and suspected terrorists in Madrid and London and Toronto were not sleeper operatives sent on suicide missions; they were students and business people and members of the community. They were persons who, for whatever reason, came to view their home country as the enemy. It is a problem we face here in the United States as well.
As has been reported, seven men were arrested yesterday in Miami on charges of conspiring to support the al Qaeda terrorist organization by planning attacks on numerous targets, including bombing the Sears Tower in Chicago, the FBI Building in North Miami Beach, Florida, and other government buildings in Miami-Dade County. Fortunately, because of the fine work of law enforcement, these men were unable to advance their deadly plot beyond the initial planning phase.
The seven men who were arrested – Narseal Batiste, Patrick Abraham, Stanley Grant Phanor, Naudimar Herrera, Burson Augustin, Lyblenson Lemorin and Rothschild Augustine – were named in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Miami. The indictment charges four counts:
These individuals wished to wage a, quote, “full ground war” against the United States. That quote is from the investigation of these individuals, who also allegedly stated the desire to, quote, “kill all the devils we can.” They hoped for their attacks to be, quote, “just as good or greater than 9/11.”
The defendants – five American citizens, one legal permanent resident and one Haitian national in the United States illegally – are expected to make appearances at U.S. District Court in Miami today.
As always, it is important to remind you that the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in a court of law.
The indictment alleges that Batiste, the ringleader of this group, intended to recruit and supervise individuals to organize and train for a mission of war against the United States. Batiste and his co-conspirators allegedly attempted to obtain the support of al Qaeda to achieve their goals. They also took steps to carry out their plans for violent attacks on this nation. Those steps included seeking out uniforms and weapons, conducting reconnaissance, and taking bayat, the oath of allegiance to al Qaeda. We know this because an individual they thought was a member of al Qaeda was present at their meetings. In actuality he was working with the South Florida Joint Terrorism Task Force.
If convicted, the defendants in this case each face a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison on the charges of conspiracy to provide material support or resources. The defendants also face a maximum of 20 years in prison on each charge of conspiracy to destroy buildings by use of explosives and conspiracy to levy war against the United States.
This case clearly demonstrates our commitment to preventing terrorism through energetic law enforcement efforts aimed at detecting and thwarting terrorist acts.
The arrests and today's indictments are the result of an extensive investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Joint Terrorism Task Force in Miami, which includes, among others, the Miami-Dade and the City of Miami Police Departments, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and the Criminal Investigation unit at the Internal Revenue Service. I am pleased by the cooperation among federal, state and local law enforcement in taking down this group of individuals who wished to harm our country and its citizens.
I want to thank FBI Deputy Director John Pistole in particular for the FBI’s leadership in this investigation. I also thank the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of Florida, Alex Acosta, and his office, for their efforts in prosecuting this case, along with the counter-terrorism section of the Criminal Division here at the Department of Justice, headed by Alice Fisher.
I’ll now turn to John Pistole for remarks and then we’ll be glad to take your questions.