Jurors struggle in Chicago terror tower case

MIAMI - Jurors signalled they are struggling to reach verdicts in the case against seven men accused of plotting with al Qaeda to blow up Chicago's Sears Tower and bomb FBI offices.

Jurors sent a note in their fourth day of deliberations that they have not reached agreement on the guilt or innocence of any of the seven defendants on any of the four terror-related conspiracy charges.

"There has been significant discussion regarding the evidence and the law," said Gregory Prebish, attorney for defendant Burson Augustin. "It's clear that the jury is unable to reach a unanimous verdict for any one of the defendants on any of the counts."

The 12 jurors must reach a unanimous verdict on each defendant or a mistrial could be declared for one or all of them. Prebish said the note indicated "a possibly deadlocked jury".

Prebish and the other six defence lawyers agreed with prosecutors that the jurors should be instructed to keep trying, and US District Judge Joan Lenard did so. Lenard refused, however, to release a copy of the jury note to reporters after a brief hearing and prevented Prebish from reading it publicly in court.

The so-called 'Liberty City Seven,' nicknamed for the Miami neighbourhood where they grew up, face up to 70 years in prison if convicted on all charges, which include conspiracy to wage war against the US and conspiracy to provide material support to al Qaeda.

Authorities say the group never obtained any explosives or military weaponry necessary to topple the 110-story Sears Tower - the tallest building in the United States - or to bomb FBI offices in Miami and other cities.

The group's leader, Narseal Batiste, testified that he went along with the plots in a scheme to extort $50,000 ($65,267) out of a man claiming to be an al Qaeda operative. That man, known to the group as Brother Mohammed, was actually an FBI informant.

Batiste is the key defendant, appearing on nearly all of the hundreds of FBI audio and video recordings and directing the actions of the other men. That included a March 2006 ceremony run by Brother Mohammed in which the group pledged allegiance to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden and the taking of surveillance photos and videos of the Miami FBI office and downtown federal buildings.

The June 2006 arrests were touted by the Bush administration as a prime example of the post-September 11, 2001 strategy of disrupting potential terror plots in the earliest possible stages. But defence lawyers claimed the men were entrapped by FBI informants and never intended to mount any terror attacks.

- AP

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