MIAMI — A former ally of a man accused of leading a conspiracy to destroy Chicago’s Sears Tower and bomb FBI buildings expressed concerns that plans were being hatched to acquire weapons for a “physical war” inside the U.S., according to an FBI tape played in court Tuesday.
The May 2006 conversation between the suspected plot leader, Narseal Batiste, and a man he has called his spiritual adviser, Master G.J.G. Atheea, marked the end of testimony in the trial of the so-called “Liberty City Seven.” Closing arguments are scheduled for Thursday, and jurors could begin deliberations by week’s end.
Atheea, a self-described spiritual missionary who was born George James Gray, agreed to secretly record his conversation with Batiste outside the group’s headquarters known as “The Embassy,” in Miami’s depressed Liberty City neighborhood.
On the tape, Atheea said he was worried that Batiste was working with the “Arabian mafia” to stockpile weapons for a violent mission, rather than working to build up the local community through a spiritual message.
“I’m talking about dealing with a spiritual war,” Atheea told Batiste. “It seems like you’re talking about a physical war.”
Batiste said he had not acquired any weaponry but acknowledged he had access. Batiste, 33, had been outlining plans for the suspected Sears Tower attack with a man he knew as “Brother Mohammed” from al-Qaida – a man actually working as an informant for the FBI.
“I was offered weapons,” Batiste said on the tape. “I was offered anything that I needed to do whatever I needed to do for the mission.”
Later, Atheea asked whether Batiste was “thinking about doing subversive work against this nation … in a diabolical way.”
“I don’t consider this, this place here to be a legitimate nation,” Batiste answered, referring in another part of the tape to vague discussions with “the brothers in the East.”
Prosecutors contend that Batiste adhered to a separatist religious sect known as the Moorish Science Temple, which blends aspects of Islam, Christianity and Judaism and does not recognize the U.S. government.
They say Batiste dreamed of bringing down the 110-story Sears Tower and bombing FBI offices in Miami and elsewhere as the first salvo in a broad insurrection against the government, and eagerly welcomed help from al-Qaida to accomplish his goal.
Batiste and his six co-defendants face as many as 70 years in prison if convicted of four terrorism-related conspiracy charges. U.S. authorities have said that the purported plot never got beyond the discussion stage and that the accused did not obtain explosives or military weaponry.
Batiste, who testified extensively in his own defense, has insisted that his dark talk of terrorism was only a ruse aimed at extorting $50,000 from Mohammed. Batiste testified that he never truly intended to stage attacks and that his six associates were not informed about the plot.
FBI agent Anthony Velazquez testified Tuesday that he never overheard Batiste talking about his ruse on any of the hundreds of telephone intercepts or conversations captured on listening devices during an eight-month investigation.
“I’ve never heard any conversation between Mr. Batiste and anyone regarding a scam, a fraud or a con,” Velazquez said.