Suspect Insists Terrorism Plot Was Fake

MIAMI (AP) -- In a replay of their first trial, the leader of a group accused of plotting to destroy Chicago's Sears Tower and bomb FBI offices insisted Tuesday that it was all faked in an attempt to con $50,000 out of a man claiming al-Qaida connections.

"I know I wasn't about being a real terrorist and I was just running a game," said Narseal Batiste. "I was playing along with it for the money."

Batiste, 34, has spent more than a week on the witness stand during the retrial of the so-called "Liberty City Seven" that began Feb. 1. Their first trial ended in December in a hung jury for six suspects and the acquittal of a seventh.

Prosecutors claim the defendants wanted to overthrow the U.S. government and plotted in 2005 and 2006 with two men of Middle Eastern ethnicity - both were actually paid FBI informants - to blow up the 110-story Sears Tower and bomb FBI offices in Miami and elsewhere.

The alleged plan never got beyond the earliest stages and no explosives or heavy weaponry was ever linked to the group.

However, an FBI videotape shows Batiste and the others pledging an oath of loyalty to al-Qaida in a March 2006 ceremony led by one of the informants, a man named Elie Assad and known to the group as Brother Mohammed. And at his request, some group members took surveillance photos and video of downtown Miami federal buildings and the FBI office.

During cross-examination Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacqueline Arango sharply questioned Batiste about recordings that captured him saying things such as wanting al-Qaida's support to start a "full ground war" that would topple a U.S. government he called "the kingdom of Satan."

"Weren't you people who were willing to help out in a terrorist attack in America?" Arango asked.

"I wouldn't say exactly terrorists. Just because we talked about terrorism doesn't put us in the category of being one," Batiste replied.

Batiste accused the two informants of leading him into a trap by dangling $50,000 in front of him at a time when his contracting business was struggling and he was trying to start a humanitarian organization to help the poverty-stricken Liberty City community.

He accused Assad, in particular, of badgering him. "If he would have left me alone, I never would have had contact with him again," Batiste said.

The informant testified earlier in the trial that he believed Batiste was completely serious about the terrorist attacks and was only looking for the financing to pull it off.

Each defendant faces up to 70 years in prison if convicted of four terrorism-related conspiracy charges.

Closing arguments are tentatively scheduled for next week.

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