Seven members of an Islamic group have been arrested by the FBI. Are they real terrorists or victims of a provocation?
At least five of the young people comprising the group are American citizens, one has a green card, and one is an illegal immigrant. All of them probably come from Jamaica, Haiti and other Caribbean islands; they are black, between 22 and 32 year of age, and followers of Islam. Three of them sport dreadlocks. None had anything to do with the Middle East. Not exactly your stereotypical image of a terrorist, are they now?
American authorities maintain, however, that nowadays, when it's so much harder for al-Qaeda members to enter the United States and organize their activities here, homegrown radical elements are the greatest threat. They are less conspicuous than arrivals from the Middle East or North Africa; they know the local topography and are virtually invisible to security agencies.
FBI director Robert Mueller compared the Miami group to the recently uncovered Muslim organization in Toronto (who wanted to storm the Canadian Parliament and behead the prime minister), and to the terror cell responsible for last year's bomb attacks in London. Their links to al-Qaeda are ideological rather than organizational.
For over a year, the seven have rented a warehouse in a poor neighborhood of Miami. Several of them lived there together, studied Islam and the Bible and practiced martial arts.
A few months ago they met a man who they took for a member of al-Qaeda and began to discuss future attacks with him. Their targets were the famous Sears Tower - the tallest skyscraper in the world until the 1980s and a symbol of Chicago - and an FBI building in Miami.
The group began taking photos and making videos of a number of Miami buildings and delivered these materials to the supposed al-Qaeda representative. He proved, however, to be a government informant. His reports are the main source of evidence against the Miami Seven.
The fact that in reality he was an FBI agent and not an al-Qaeda envoy makes no difference to the legality of the charges. According to American law, it is enough to prove the intent to commit a crime, and so the Miami Seven are accused of "collaborating with al-Qaeda and helping that organization carry out attacks on U.S. territory."
According to the FBI informer, members of the group declared their desire to participate in the war on America and to kill "as many American devils as possible." They dreamed of an attack "bigger than 9/11" and were also interested in going to a terrorist training camp. They also took an oath of allegiance to al-Qaeda.
The search by he FBI didn't find any weapons or bomb-making materials, and the plot is not thought to have gone beyond the stage of discussing the attacks.
It was the FBI agent who supplied the group with digital and video cameras to facilitate the surveillance of the buildings; he also promised them weapons, boots and bomb-making materials. And it was the agent who prompted them to take the [al-Qaeda] loyalty oath.
After 9/11, the FBI is has increasingly practiced provocative tactics. As a consequence, a number of groups and individuals have been targeted and arrested for conducting terrorist plots, despite having plotted with FBI agents rather than al-Qaeda.
The protests of Islamic organizations, which accuse the authorities of entrapment and inventing plots in order to ensnare the Muslim community, are falling on deaf ears.
As Attorney General Alberto Gonzales explained last Friday, "Our philosophy is to identify these terrorist plots in the earliest possible stage."
"The indictment looks thin to me… Everything … consists of conversations between themselves and an FBI informant who's claiming to be an al-Qaeda representative … So it's an indictment that doesn't look very strong on its face …" a former prosecutor Paul Callan commented on CNN.