MIAMI — A once highly touted terrorism case that produced two mistrials before eventually bringing five convictions came to an end Friday, when the ringleader was sentenced to 13.5 years in prison by a federal judge.
Prosecutors said Narseal Batiste, 35, plotted terror attacks on Chicago's Sears Tower and FBI offices in hopes of sparking an antigovernment insurrection. Batiste maintained at all three trials that he never aspired to be a terrorist and only went along in hopes of scamming the FBI informant out of $50,000.
His conviction was built on dozens of FBI recordings, mainly of meetings between Batiste and an FBI informer posing as an al-Qaida emissary. One key piece of evidence was a ceremony in which Batiste and his followers each pledged loyalty to al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden.
Top U.S. officials acknowledged at the time that the Sears Tower and FBI plots never got past the discussion stage and the group never acquired the means to carry out such audacious attacks.
The case was viewed as a prime example of the post-9/11 law enforcement strategy of stopping terror plots in the earliest possible stages.
"We shouldn't have to wait for people to be harmed to punish these people for their desire to inflict harm," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacqueline Arango.
But critics, including Batiste attorney Ana M. Jhones, called it a case of FBI entrapment.
"No one in the United States was ever in any danger. There were absolutely no steps taken to wage war," she said.
Batiste, who faced a maximum of 70 years in prison, was convicted in May of conspiracy to provide material support to al-Qaida, plotting to blow up buildings and conspiracy to wage war against the U.S. Four other men described as Batiste's soldiers were also convicted and sentenced to between six and 10 years behind bars, less than prosecutors sought. Two others who originally were part of the group dubbed the "Liberty City Seven" were acquitted.