FBI agents and a SWAT unit swarmed into the Black community of Liberty City, cordoned off several blocks around a warehouse in a residential area, and arrested two of the men.
Federal cops arrested three others, construction laborers, as they worked at an apartment building in the Buena Vista East neighborhood of Miami.
The men, all between the ages of 22 and 32, used the warehouse for Bible study and martial arts training, according to family and neighbors. They are members of a religious group called Seas of David and worked for a small construction company run by the groups leader, Narseal Batiste. Two of the men are Haitian-born and four are of Haitian descent.
A four-count federal grand jury indictment charges all seven with conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, that is, al-Qaeda, and conspiracy to use explosives and to levy war against the Government of the United States. If convicted they would face maximum prison sentences of 15-20 years on each charge.
According to the indictment, the police infiltrator provided the men with money, boots, uniforms, and a camera, and discussed with them a plot to destroy the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Miami FBI office, and other Miami federal buildings. He supposedly got them to pledge an oath to al-Qaeda.
The arrests were preceded by several months of FBI spying, wiretaps, and secret videotaping. The FBI acknowledges the group had no weapons or explosives and no ties to al-Qaeda.
This group was more aspirational than operational, said FBI deputy director John Pistole.
Relatives of those accused spoke out against the arrests. I believe my husband is innocent of all the accusations against him, said Minerva Batiste, 34, about Narseal Batiste, according to the Chicago Tribune.
They prayed. They exercised. They were trying to get their minds right, Marlene Phanor, sister of Stanley Phanor, one of those arrested, told the Miami Herald. These claims are completely false.
Betty McKinzy, 57, a county animal services worker who lives near the warehouse, told the Militant, I dont think it was right. These people never bothered anybody. The FBI didnt find any guns or drugsno nothing.
Another neighbor, a Honduran-born construction worker who asked that his name not be used, said, I dont think they were terrorists. There were no guns or grenades. Theyre religious. I used to see them doing exercises when I walked my dog in the morning. There is no evidence, but the police do what they want.
Tony Jeanthenor, a leader of Veye Yo, a Haitian community organization, said, It is very very suspicious. No proof whatsoever. And the federal government is good at creating proof when they need it. These workers decide to pray their own way. What is the problem?
David Markus, president of the Miami chapter of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, told the Herald, We used to have agents and confidential informants creating drug deals in Liberty City. Now it looks like they are creating homegrown cells.
Sarah Ruth Robinett, Socialist Workers Party candidate for the Florida House of Representatives in District 109, which includes most of Liberty City, condemned the FBI raid and arrests.
The U.S. government, its cops, secret police and media want to convince us that they are out to protect our rights and that we should get used to the stepped-up use of government armed forces in our neighborhoods. Nothing could be further from the truth, she said.
These antiterrorist moves, Robinett said, are in fact attacks on our basic rights. The real target is working peopleour fighting capacity and our unions. The rights of the accused must be defended, including the presumption of innocence, private meetings with their lawyers, and complete access to all evidence against them.
Thousands in London protest antiterror raid
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