The alleged ringleader of a terrorist cell that planned to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago was an adherent of an obscure black Islamist sect that was first investigated by America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation in the 1950s, relatives said yesterday.
According to an FBI indictment, Narseal Batiste, 32, wanted to build an “Islamic army” to “wage war against the United States government” and provide “material support to al-Qaeda“. He and the six other accused lived in Miami.
Relatives said that Batiste, described as a “Moses-like” figure who roamed his neighbourhood wearing a robe and carrying a crooked wooden cane as he recruited young men, based his teachings on those of the Moorish Science Temple of America.
Founded in New Jersey in 1913, the basic tenet of Moorish Science is that all black people are born as Muslims and are descended from the Moors, a nomadic North African tribe. In the 1950s, the FBI tried to infiltrate the Moorish Science Church’s activities, believing it to be involved in disseminating anti-American propaganda, but the investigation proved inconclusive and was dropped.
Batiste is said to have called his branch of Moorish Science the “Seas of David“. His followers wore uniforms bearing a Star of David, and met for Bible study and martial arts practice in a Haitian section of Miami.
The seven Florida arrests, which Alberto Gonzales, the US attorney general, cited as evidence of a “home-grown terrorist” threat, followed a sting operation in which an FBI agent infiltrated the group for six months.
Batiste was said to have talked about blowing up the Sears Tower and the FBI headquarters in Miami.
Another adherent of Moorish Science was Clement Rodney Hampton-El, who was convicted in 1995 of taking part in a failed plot to blow up New York city tunnels and landmarks with truck bombs.