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28519: Hermantin(News)Suspects seemed to have big plans (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Suspects seemed to have big plans

Prosecutors say they lacked the means to match ambitions

By Robert Nolin, Vanessa Blum
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

June 24, 2006

Miami Seven South Floridians accused of domestic terrorism were long on ambition, according to prosecutors, but they were far short on substance, according to neighbors and relatives.

A federal indictment unsealed Friday said the seven young men arrested for attempting to establish an al-Qaida terrorist cell harbored dreams of forming an "Islamic Army" in Liberty City to unleash a "full ground war" against targets in the United States.

But the alleged plot didn't get far. The men acquired combat boots, photographed targets and recited a loyalty pledge, or "bayat" to al-Qaida -- then told a government informant their organization was having "various problems."

"They certainly had the will," Miami U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta said Friday. "They were searching for the way."

Those arrested are: Patrick "Brother Pat" Abraham, 26, North Miami; Burson "Brother B" Augustin, 21, Miami; Rotschild "Brother Rot" Augustine, 22, Miami-Dade County; Narseal "Prince Manna" Batiste, 32, Miami; Naudimar "Brother Naudy" Herrera, 22, Miami; Lyglenson "Brother Levi" Lemorin, 31, Miami; and Stanley Grant "Brother Sunni" Phanor, 31, Miami.

Each was indicted on two counts of conspiring to support a foreign terrorist organization, one count of conspiring to destroy buildings by use of explosives, and one count of conspiring to levy war against the government. Each, if convicted, faces a maximum sentence of 70 years.

The men's families, however, insisted the group was more humanitarian than military, and incapable of what they are accused of plotting.

"This is a very spiritual thing. It has nothing to do with terrorism," said Sylvain Plantin, cousin of one of the defendants.

Leo Casino, a musician who lives near the Liberty City warehouse where some of the men were arrested Thursday, agreed. He said the suspects were vegetarians who fed the homeless.

The group didn't carry guns, Casino said, and "the neighbors weren't afraid of them."

The case may be a tough one for the government to prove because it weighs heavily on an informant's involvement, said Jeffrey Harris, president of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

"If the authorities created the crime, that's classic entrapment," he added.

According to the indictment, the seven men plotted to "kill all the devils we can" by blowing up FBI buildings in downtown Miami and four other cities, as well as Chicago's 110-story Sears Tower.

"They hoped for their attacks to be, quote, `just as good or greater than 9-11,'" U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said in Washington, D.C.

But the planned attacks, deputy FBI Director John Pistole said from Washington, were "more aspirational than operational."

The group never attained any bombs or weapons, but Acosta said the government decided to act before the plot developed further.

"I don't think anyone would want us to wait until they had acquired the capability to execute their plan," Acosta said.

Batiste first came to the attention of law enforcement in October 2005, when, according to court documents, he asked an individual who was traveling to the Middle East to help him find foreign Islamic extremists to fund his mission. Instead, court documents say, the person alerted the FBI, which in turn infiltrated the group.

By then, the men had caught the attention of many of their neighbors in Liberty City, a predominantly black Miami area indelibly scarred by the city's worst race riots in 1980.

The charging document said that starting in November, the men met with the informant and pledged an oath to al-Qaida in hopes of obtaining uniforms, cash, guns, radios and vehicles. In December, the informant produced eight pairs of military boots, a cell phone, $3,500 and a digital camera to photograph targets.

Batiste, a construction worker who once lived in Chicago, spoke about taking down the Sears Tower. "If I can put up a building, I should definitely know how to take one down," the brief quoted him as saying.

Batiste also said he wanted to use land he owned in Louisiana to set up an al-Qaida-style training camp, according to the brief.

Though the government said the defendants dreamed grand schemes, they actually had a hard time maintaining their warehouse headquarters. A neighbor said the structure, near Northwest 15th Avenue and 62nd Street, had no water or electricity, and was lit by candles.

The seven apparently lived at the warehouse and variously told neighbors they were building a temple or starting a karate school. The warehouse's interior resembled a living room, with chairs and tables, said Marilyn Rose, who lives across the street.

During the day, the men dressed normally, Rose said. Her daughter, Latia Williams, 14, said at night they wore black and exercised behind the warehouse. "They looked like a cult," Rose said.

Though the government called the defendants a "radical Islamic group," Casino said that may be innacurate. "I think it was a hodgepodge of religions -- Muslim, Christian, even Hebrew Israelite," he said.

Each defendant except Phanor and Lemorin appeared in Miami federal court Friday. Batiste, the alleged ringleader, spoke softly and displayed little emotion as he answered questions.

Batiste said he was self-employed, earning roughly $30,000 annually. He said he had four children and owns no property worth more than $5,000.

Magistrate Patrick White ruled all were entitled to be represented at no cost. The defendants are scheduled to be back in court June 30 for a bond hearing.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said Abraham was here illegally from Haiti. Others were native-born or had attained citizenship.

Lemorin and Phanor grew up on the same street in a working class neighborhood in northwest Miami, family members said. Both were Haitian-American.

Lemorin was arrested in Atlanta, where his mother, Julian Olibrice, said he had been living for the past few months.

She sobbed outside her Miami home Friday, and denied any wrongdoing by her son. "My son never go to jail. My son never had problem," Olibrice said. "My son did nothing."

Phanor and Lemorin, a single father of two, were intrigued by Batiste's view of the Bible and his martial arts skills, said Lemorin's cousin Plantin. The men were in a Bible study group with Batiste, who also got them construction jobs.

Phanor's mother, Elizene Phanor, said her son helped support her, a sister and nieces and nephews. "He don't have the heart to kill people," she said.

Staff Writers Maura Possley and John Holland, Maya Bell and Mark Matthews of the Orlando Sentinel, and researchers Barbara Hijek and William Lucey contributed to this report.

Robert Nolin can be reached at rnolin@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4525.

Copyright  2006, South Florida Sun-Sentinel