Liberty City group sought military gear, FBI 'al-Qaida' informant says
MIAMI - An FBI informant who posed as an al-Qaida operative testified Thursday that the alleged ringleader of a budding terrorism cell provided a detailed list of gear the group wanted, including machine guns, bulletproof vests, sport utility vehicles, motorcycles and $50,000 in cash.
Elie Assad -- known as Mohammed to the group -- also said Narseal Batiste sought dynamite to destroy the 110-story Sears Tower in Chicago and ignite a wider anti-government insurrection led by his own troops.
``He told me he was a professional, and he knows how to build buildings, and he knows how to take them down,'' Assad testified in the trial of Batiste and his six alleged followers.
The so-called Liberty City Seven face up to 70 years in prison if convicted of charges that include conspiracy to levy war against the U.S. and provide material support to al-Qaida. Their trial is expected to last up to two more months.
Attorneys for Batiste and the others have said they never intended to mount a terrorist attack and that they went along with the FBI informants only to attempt to extort money from them.
Assad's testimony marked the first public appearance by the key prosecution witness in the case. Assad recorded numerous meetings and phone calls with Batiste and others in the group, and administered an oath of allegiance to al-Qaida to each of the seven defendants that was videotaped by the FBI.
Assad described himself as a Lebanese national of Syrian descent who speaks six languages. He said he was enlisted by the FBI to act as an al-Qaida emissary after agents were tipped in fall 2005 that Batiste was allegedly plotting a terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
At a meeting on Dec. 29, 2005, Assad testified that Batiste gave him a handwritten, three-page list of requested supplies including the weaponry, $50,000 in cash, binoculars, dirt bikes, street motorcycles, SUVs and two large recreational vehicles capable of holding his entire group.
Batiste also told Assad he had access to private land in Louisiana and Alabama, where he hoped to use these supplies to train his ``soldiers'' there so they could mount a guerrilla war to be triggered by the toppling of the Sears Tower.
``I'm really serious about everything I told you,'' Batiste said in one recorded conversation. ``There's only one government -- and that's the government of Islam.''
Assad said he gave the list to the FBI and ultimately supplied only military-style boots and a cell phone to Batiste. ``It's not safe to give him machine guns,'' Assad said.
Prosecutors also played a recording of a Jan. 28, 2006 meeting of Assad, the other informant and Batiste in the Florida Keys. The two informants had been unexpectedly driven there from Miami amid increasing suspicions among Batiste's group that they might be working for the FBI, prosecutors said.
During the meeting, held in a tent in the town of Islamorada, Batiste notes that the Bush administration has become increasingly concerned about homegrown terrorist cells and that ``it would have been easy'' for Assad to have recorded their previous talks -- which, in fact, he did.
``You've got to understand, in this country right now, right now, there are spies everywhere,'' Batiste said on the recording.
Ultimately, Assad assured Batiste that he was a legitimate al-Qaida representative and the two informants were driven back to Miami unharmed. They were able to record the entire trip for the FBI.