WASHINGTON, June 23: US authorities have arrested seven Florida men for allegedly providing material support to Al Qaeda and for conspiracy to levy war against the United States, the Department of Justice announced in Washington on Friday.

All seven are accused of “discussing and planning” attacks on targets inside the US, including the Sears Tower in Chicago and the FBI and other federal buildings in Florida.

The seven men – Narseal Batiste, Patrick Abraham, Stanley Grant Phanor, Naudimar Herrera, Burson Augustin, Lyblenson Lemorin and Rothschild Augustine -– were named in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Florida in Miami.

The defendants — five US citizens, one legal permanent resident, and one Haitian national in the country illegally — have all been arrested.

In a statement issued on Friday, the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago expressed “relief and concern” at the arrest of the accused men before they could carry out their plans.

“The fact that another attack on our country was in the works is something that concerns us deeply,” said Council chairman, Abdul Malik Mujahid. He appealed to Imams across the US to offer Friday sermons about “the sanctity of life in Islam and the heinousness of terrorism.”

Mr Mujahid urged journalists and editors to exercise caution in linking Islam to terrorism as this case develops, since those arrested are Muslim.

The indictment alleges that, beginning in November 2005 and continuing to the present, Bastiste recruited and supervised individuals to organise and train for a mission to wage war against the US including a plot to destroy the Sears Tower by explosives.

Batiste and his co-conspirators allegedly attempted to obtain the support of Al Qaeda to achieve their goals and discussed this desire with an individual cooperating with law enforcement who posed as a member of Al Qaeda.

Believing they were dealing with that terrorist group, in March 2006, Batiste and other defendants pledged an oath of allegiance to Al Qaeda and allegedly supported a plan to destroy FBI buildings in the United States by taking photos of the FBI Building in North Miami Beach, Florida, and other federal buildings in Miami-Dade County.

Batiste then allegedly took reconnaissance photographs of the FBI Building in North Miami Beach, the James Lawrence King Federal Justice Building, federal courthouse buildings, the Federal Detention Centre and the Miami Police Department.

In addition to conducting surveillance, the defendants allegedly provided the individual, whom they believed was an Al Qaeda member, with a list of materials and equipment needed to wage jihad, including boots, uniforms, machine guns, radios and vehicles. In December 2005, at one of a number of meetings with this person, Batiste spoke of using an army of “soldiers” and explosives to destroy the Sears Tower.

In a subsequent meeting, he provided the individual with a list of other materials needed in his plot to take down the Sears Tower, including radios, binoculars, bullet proof vests, firearms, vehicles and $50,000 cash.

According to the indictment, the plot advanced further through meetings with other co-defendants. In one of the meetings on Feb 19, Batiste allegedly told the “Al Qaeda representative” that he wanted to attend Al Qaeda training with five of his soldiers.

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