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Context of 'June 23, 2006: “Miami Seven” Arrested in Connection with Sears Tower Plot, but Capability of Plotters Is Doubted'

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The Lackawanna Six. Top row, from left: Faysal Galab, Mukhtar al-Bakri, and Sahim Alwan. Bottom row, from left: Yahya Goba, Shafel Mosed, and Yaseinn Taher.The Lackawanna Six. Top row, from left: Faysal Galab, Mukhtar al-Bakri, and Sahim Alwan. Bottom row, from left: Yahya Goba, Shafel Mosed, and Yaseinn Taher. [Source: Associated Press]A group of seven men in Lackawanna, near Buffalo, New York, are influenced by religious discussions with two al-Qaeda operatives, Kamal Derwish and Juma al-Dosari. The seven US citizens—Yaseinn Taher, Yahya Goba, Shafel Mosed, Mukhtar al-Bakri, Sahim Alwan, Faysal Galab, and Jaber Elbaneh—leave for jihad training in Afghanistan. They tell friends they are merely going to Pakistan for religious instruction. Escorted by Derwish, the men travel separately and attend a six-week long weapons course at the Al Farooq camp. Some of them meet Osama bin Laden in Kandahar and they all hear him give a speech (see (June 2001)). However, most of them apparently think they are in over their heads and find excuses to cut their basic training course short and return home. The six who return show little to no evidence of any al-Qaeda plotting in the following months. Jaber Elbaneh, however, becomes committed and stays overseas with al-Qaeda. The six who return will later be arrested and dubbed an al-Qaeda cell known as the “Lackawanna Six” (see September 13, 2002). [PBS Frontline, 10/16/2003]

Entity Tags: Yaseinn Taher, Al Farooq training camp, Shafel Mosed, Yahya Goba, Osama bin Laden, Faysal Galab, Jaber Elbaneh, Juma al-Dosari, Sahim Alwan, Mukhtar al-Bakri, Kamal Derwish

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Library Tower in Los Angeles. It is later renamed the US Bank Tower.The Library Tower in Los Angeles. It is later renamed the US Bank Tower. [Source: Kim D. Johnson / Associated Press]9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) attempts to organize a follow up attack to the 9/11 attacks. Beginning in October 2001, KSM and Hambali, a top al-Qaeda leader in Southeast Asia, recruit four operatives for the new plot, all of them Malaysian:
bullet Mohamad Farik Amin (a.k.a. Zubair).
bullet Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep (a.k.a. Lillie).
bullet Zaini Zakaria.
bullet Masran bin Arshad.
The plan is for these operatives to blow up the doors to airplane cockpits using shoe bombs, take over flying the aircraft, and then crash them into US buildings—essentially the same technique as was used in the 9/11 attacks, except with the addition of the shoe bomb and the use of East Asians instead of Middle Easterners. Apparently several buildings are initially targeted. KSM will later name them as the Library Tower in Los Angeles (later renamed the US Bank tower), the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Empire State Building in New York, and a tall building in Washington State. But the plot soon focuses on just the Library Tower, the tallest building on the West Coast of the US, due to a lack of pilots. The members of the plot go to Afghanistan and swear an oath of loyalty to Osama bin Laden, and then continue to train with Hambali in Asia. However, the plot does not go far because Zakaria, the only trained pilot of the group (see (Spring 2000)), drops out in late 2001, saying he has small children to consider. In February 2002, bin Arshad, the leader of the four operatives, is arrested and other other members decide the plot has been canceled. Zakaria turns himself in to Malaysian authorities in 2002, and apparently remains in detention in Malaysia without being charged. Amin and Bin Lep will be arrested in 2003 with Hambali and taken into US custody (see August 12, 2003). Amin, Bin Lep, and Hambali will all be transferred to Guantanamo prison as high-value detainees in 2006 (see September 2-3, 2006). It is unknown who arrests bin Arshad or what becomes of him. [Time, 10/5/2003; Time, 10/6/2003; White House, 2/9/2006; Associated Press, 2/10/2006; US Department of Defense, 3/10/2007 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Mohamad Farik Amin, Masran bin Arshad, Hambali, Zaini Zakaria, Al-Qaeda, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Jose Padilla.
Jose Padilla. [Source: Florida Department of Motor Vehicles]Attorney General John Ashcroft announces the arrest of Abdullah al-Mujahir, a.k.a. Jose Padilla. He claims that Padilla was part of an al-Qaeda plot to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in a US city, and supposedly Padilla was scouting bomb targets when arrested. Padilla, a US citizen, is being held as an “enemy combatant,” allowing him to be held indefinitely. [Guardian, 6/11/2002; PBS, 6/11/2002] But almost immediately, doubts grow about this story. The London Times says that it is “beyond dispute” that the timing of the announcement of his arrest was “politically inspired.” Padilla was actually arrested a month earlier, on May 8. [London Times, 6/13/2002] It is widely believed that Ashcroft made the arrest announcement “only to divert attention from Intelligence Committee inquiries into the FBI and CIA handling of 9/11.” [Village Voice, 6/12/2002; Independent, 6/12/2002; BBC, 6/13/2002; Washington Post, 6/13/2003] Four days earlier, Coleen Rowley testified before Congress. The FBI whistleblower stated her belief that the attacks of Sept. 11 could have been prevented had the FBI flight-school warnings been made available to the agents investigating Zacharias Moussaoui. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 pdf file] Bush soon privately chastises Ashcroft for overstating claims about Padilla. [Guardian, 8/15/2002] The government attorneys apparently could not get an indictment out of a New York grand jury and, rather than let him go, made Padilla an enemy combatant. [Village Voice, 6/12/2002] It later comes out that the FBI found no evidence that he was preparing a dirty bomb attack and little evidence to suggest he had any support from al-Qaeda, or any ties to al-Qaeda cells in the US. Yet the Justice Department maintains that its view of Padilla “remains unchanged,” and that he is a “serious and continuing threat.” [Guardian, 8/15/2002] Because Padilla is a US citizen, he cannot be tried in a military court. So apparently he will simply be held indefinitely. It is pointed out that any American could be declared an enemy combatant and never tried or have that status questioned. [San Francisco Chronicle, 6/11/2002; Washington Post, 6/11/2002] The Washington Post says, “If that’s the case, nobody’s constitutional rights are safe.” [Washington Post, 6/11/2002] Despite the evidence that Padilla’s case is grossly overstated, the government won’t allow him access to a lawyer (see December 4, 2002; March 11, 2003).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency, London Times, Joint Intelligence Committee, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Jose Padilla

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Miami Seven. Group leader Narseal Batiste is on the bottom right.The Miami Seven. Group leader Narseal Batiste is on the bottom right. [Source: BBC]Police arrest seven people during a raid on a warehouse in the Miami area. The men are alleged to be a “home-grown” terrorist cell plotting to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago and the FBI building in Miami, as well as possible other unspecified targets. They had allegedly conducted video surveillance of their targets. [CNN, 6/23/2006] The men are identified in the federal indictment as Narseal Batiste, Patrick Abraham, Stanley Grant Phanor, Naudimar Herrera, Burson Augustin, Lyglenson Lemorin, and Rotschild Augustine. [FindLaw, 6/22/2006] Two are Haitians, five are US citizens, and two are US immigrants. [Democracy Now!, 6/26/2006] Vice President Dick Cheney describes them as a “a very real threat.” [London Times, 6/25/2006] Bruce Hoffman, a counterterrorism expert who heads the Washington office of the Rand Corp., says that “amateur terrorists can kill as effectively as the professional kind.” [Washington Post, 6/24/2006] However, officials concede that the group never had any contact with any other terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda. [BBC, 6/23/2006] Officials also admit that the men had not acquired any explosives or weapons. Chicago Police Superintendent Philip Cline says “there was never any danger to the Sears Tower or Chicago.” Deputy FBI Director John Pistole says that the plot had not progressed beyond early planning stages and “was aspirational rather than operational.” Hoffman says that it is “not clear is whether they had any real capabilities to pull [the plot] off.” [Washington Post, 6/24/2006] An FBI informant posing as an al-Qaeda operative had infiltrated the group for nearly six months and many conversations were recorded. [Washington Post, 9/2/2006] Batiste, the leader of the group, allegedly stated that he and his “soldiers” wanted to receive terrorist training in order to wage a “full ground war” against the US and to “kill all the devils we can.” [BBC, 6/23/2006] He requested boots, uniforms, machine guns, radios, vehicles, and $50,000 in cash from the informant. However, the men were only able to acquire military boots and a video camera. The indictment indicates that the men lacked any real resources; these organizational problems caused the plot to peter out by May. [Washington Post, 6/24/2006] Critics accuse the FBI of running a border-line entrapment operation in which a plot that was virtually a pipe-dream was kept alive by the involvement of the informant. Max Rameau of Miami CopWatch points out that the military gear and cameras had been supplied to the men by the government, via the informant. [Democracy Now!, 6/26/2006] Court records would later show that not only did the government provide materiel to the group, but the informant also suggested the Miami FBI office as the first target. The records show that the informant, known as CW2, played a key role in the advancement of the plot, such as administering the “al-Qaeda oaths” taken by the men. At a detention hearing, judge Ted E. Bandstra says that the allegations are “disturbing,” but adds that “the plans appear to be beyond the present ability of these defendants.” [Washington Post, 9/2/2006]

Entity Tags: Narseal Batiste, Naudimar Herrera, Patrick Abraham, Rotschild Augustine, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Max Rameau, Philip J. Cline, Lyglenson Lemorin, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Joan Leonard, Al-Qaeda, John S. Pistole, Bruce Hoffman, CW2, Burson Augustin, Ted E. Bandstra, Stanley Grant Phanor

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The trial of the “Miami Seven” results in a deadlocked federal jury after nine days of deliberations, with one man, Lyglenson Lemorin, acquitted and a mistrial declared for the other six. The men each faced four terrorism-related conspiracy charges that carry a combined maximum of 70 years in prison. The charges relate to an alleged terrorist cell formed by the men, who hoped to forge an alliance with al-Qaeda to carry out bombings against the Sears Tower in Chicago, the FBI’s Miami office and other federal buildings (see June 23, 2006). The group operated out of a warehouse in the Liberty City section of Miami. [Guardian, 12/13/2007] The arrests of the men in 2006 were heralded as a major victory for the Bush administration’s “War on Terror.” Then-US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales warned that, if “left unchecked, these homegrown terrorists may prove to be as dangerous as groups like al-Qaeda.” The alleged plot was used as an example of the government’s post-9/11 improvements to counter-terrorism methods. The men were members of the Moorish Science Temple, a sect that blends Islam, Christianity and Judaism and does not recognize the legitimacy of the US government. The majority of the evidence in the case came from an FBI Middle Eastern informant, Elie Assad, posing as an al-Qaeda operative named “Brother Mohammad.” He had worked for the FBI for years before he approached Narseal Batiste, the alleged ringleader. Among the evidence he obtained was a recording from March 16, 2006 in which the men vowed to act as “Islamic soldiers” for al-Qaeda. Other evidence included a further 12,000 recorded conversations, including one in which Batiste spoke of waging a “ground war.” The prosecution also presented surveillance photos some defendants took of federal buildings in Miami, wish lists of weapons, and a request for $50,000 made to the informant. Batiste claimed during the trial that he was conning the informant, just as the informant was conning him. He says he was desperate for money to aid his failing construction business, so he went along with the informant in hopes of tricking him into giving him $50,000. [Time, 12/13/2007] The mistrial and acquittal is considered a major loss for the government and its strategy of pre-emptive prosecution of suspected terrorists. The jury of six men and six women twice sent notes to the presiding judge indicating they could not reach verdicts but were told to keep trying. The mistrial came after their third vote. [Guardian, 12/13/2007] The jury foreman, Jeffrey Agron, says, “It was a very difficult case with a lot of evidence… people see evidence in different ways. There were different takes that people had.” A large part of the defense was based on the extensive FBI involvement in the plot: the warehouse was paid for by the FBI and the defendants moved their operations there at the suggestion of the FBI informant. The vows to al-Qaeda were instigated by the informant, who even suggested the bombing of the Miami FBI office. Defense attorney Albert Levin says, “The case was written, produced and directed by the FBI.” Attorney Joshua Dratel, who has defended several suspects in terrorism cases, says: “[A]re we interested in finding terrorists or creating them? Even in cases where people are found guilty, I’m not sure that [this strategy] is necessarily finding people who are a genuine danger. What it’s really doing is finding people who—with enough inducement and encouragement—may do something. But whether they would ever do anything on their own, we’ll never know.” A new trial is scheduled for next year. [Time, 12/13/2007]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Jeffrey Agron, Alberto R. Gonzales, Joshua Dratel, Albert Levin, Moorish Science Temple, Lyglenson Lemorin, Narseal Batiste, Elie Assad

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Milt Bearden, a retired 30-year CIA veteran who served as senior manager for clandestine operations, writes: “The [Bush] administration’s claims of having ‘saved thousands of Americans’ can be dismissed out of hand because credible evidence has never been offered—not even an authoritative leak of any major terrorist operation interdicted based on information gathered from these interrogations in the past seven years. All the public gets is repeated references to Jose Padilla (see June 10, 2002), the Lackawanna Six (see April-August 2001), the Liberty Seven (see June 23, 2006), and the Library Tower operation in Los Angeles (see October 2001-February 2002). If those slapstick episodes are the true character of the threat, then maybe we’ll be okay after all. When challenged on the lack of a game-changing example of a derailed operation, administration officials usually say that the need to protect sources and methods prevents revealing just how enhanced interrogation techniques have saved so many thousands of Americans. But it is irresponsible for any administration not to tell a credible story that would convince critics at home and abroad that this torture has served some useful purpose.” Bearden suggests that the CIA might have been permanently “broken” by its use of torture, and that some US officials will likely face the threat of being arrested overseas on torture charges for years to come. [Washington Independent, 7/1/2008]

Entity Tags: Milt Bearden, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

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