MIAMI (Reuters) – A U.S. judge declared mistrials on Thursday for six men accused of plotting to wage war against the United States and blow up Chicago’s Sears Tower after a jury acquitted one defendant but could not decide on verdicts for the others.
The decision was a setback for the U.S. government, which had touted the arrests as an important victory in its war against terrorism. Prosecutors may decide to retry the six.
Lyglenson Lemorin, 32, was cleared of charges of conspiring to help foreign terrorist organizations including al Qaeda, and conspiring to blow up buildings and overthrow the U.S. government.
“It has become clear the jury cannot reach a verdict regarding the remaining defendants,” said U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard.
The verdict came after the 12-member Miami jury deliberated for part of nine days and twice told the judge they were unable to reach agreement on any of the charges against the men, known as the Liberty City Seven after the poor Miami neighborhood where they met.
The young men had faced up to 70 years in prison if convicted on all four counts, which included allegations they took an oath of allegiance to Osama bin Laden’s Islamic militant group and plotted to blow up FBI offices and the 110-story Sears Tower, the tallest U.S. skyscraper.
At the time of the arrests in June 2006, federal agents said the group’s plans were “aspirational rather than operational,” and posed no real threat because they had neither al Qaeda contacts nor the means of carrying out attacks.
Defense lawyers dismissed the charges as “nonsense” and said the entire plot was orchestrated by paid FBI informants.
The group’s reputed ringleader, Narseal Batiste, testified that he went along with the informants, who posed as Middle Eastern contacts, in a bid to con them out of $50,000 to support an inner-city religious group.