Joel Mowbray

Given that hard evidence is often scarce in trials of unsuccessful terrorists, federal prosecutors in Miami no doubt felt fortunate to be trying defendants who participated in a ceremony pledging allegiance to al Qaeda—which was captured on video.

The defendants took surveillance photos of government buildings. The leader of the cell admitted requesting from an apparent terrorist financier boots, uniforms, vehicles, machine guns and $50,000. Just in case the reason for the request was unclear, Narseal Batiste stated—on tape—that it was for creating an “Islamic army” to wage a “full ground war” and commit an attack that would be “as good or greater than 9/11,” such as blowing up the Sears Tower.

It wasn’t enough. They weren’t convicted.

In a stunning defeat for common sense, a Miami jury last month couldn’t convict seven defendants on a single of the 28 total charges. One man, who had moved to Atlanta months before the arrests and had severed ties with the group, was acquitted entirely. The jury deadlocked on all charges brought against the other members of the “Liberty City Seven.”

Though prosecutors are re-trying the remaining defendants soon, odds of success the second time around seem dicey. Put simply, it appears that several jurors were determined to acquit, no matter the evidence.

Consider that Batiste’s explanation should have prompted laughter, not doubts about his guilt: He claimed he did it for the children.

Taking the stand, the group’s leader testified that he was actually trying to con the undercover informant to get money to build a community center.

Even though the defense provided no independent, corroborating evidence, several jurors believed the “theory of it all being a scam,” said jury foreman Jeffrey Agron. He offered that the defense indeed had a certain appeal—but nothing to back it up. Agron explained, “I kept saying, ‘It’s a great story. It makes sense. Now where’s the evidence?’”

One media-touted theory is that the defendants inspired sympathy as hapless wannabes. A dismissed juror—who was shown the door near the midpoint for reading a police pamphlet outside the courthouse on terrorism during the trial—explained that he was favoring acquittal for that very reason. “They were playing ninja,” said Eldon Brown. “These guys were living in the movies. They were completely out of touch with reality.”

Then there’s the inherent problem of prosecuting unsuccessful terrorists: By definition, they never actually have succeeded.

Joel Mowbray

Joel Mowbray, who got his start with, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.

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