WHAT NATIONAL SECURITY? Then Bush wants porous borders?


Posted on Fri, Jun. 30, 2006

Terror-plot mystery witness emerges

A Chicago man known as 'The Sultan' emerged as a key witness in the Liberty City domestic terror case after reportedly firing a shot at one of the group's members inside their headquarters in April.


Suspect's arrest statement (.pdf)
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For months, federal agents relied on an FBI informant posing as an al Qaeda financier to build their terror case against Narseal Batiste and his band of six followers who were allegedly plotting to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago and federal buildings in Miami.

But a new figure central to the terror investigation emerged on Thursday: a Chicago man with ties to the suspected terror group, who was arrested in April after a shot was fired inside the group's Liberty City warehouse, according to court documents filed in Atlanta and Miami.

The man, Sultan Khanbey, 51, turned out to be Batiste's mentor and teacher -- and he's now providing prosecutors with an inside view of the alleged terror organization.

Authorities say the group wanted to blow up the tallest building in the United States -- the Sears Tower in Batiste's native Chicago -- along with the FBI headquarters in North Miami Beach and the federal courthouse/detention center/U.S. attorney's office complex in downtown Miami.

The FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force first started keeping tabs on the group in October after Batiste tried to recruit a man of Arabic descent, known to regularly travel to the Middle East, to join Batiste's group.

Batiste told the local Arab man that he wanted to meet ''Muslim brothers'' from Yemen to ''wage a holy war'' inside the United States, a prosecutor said Thursday in Atlanta.

Instead of joining Batiste's fledgling Liberty City jihad, the man contacted the FBI.

With the help of the original informant, another Arab man working with the terrorism task force was introduced into Batiste's circle. The new informant, posing as an al Qaeda contact, became a regular fixture at the Liberty City warehouse that they called ``the embassy.''

Federal prosecutor Richard Getchell, speaking at the Atlanta federal court hearing, said Batiste claimed he had built an army of about 100 soldiers in Florida, Chicago and elsewhere and planned on training them on family farmland about two hours north of Baton Rouge, La.

Getchell said Batiste, a former FedEx deliveryman in Chicago, wanted to start his bombing campaign with the Sears Tower because he knew the building and the layout of its below-ground floors.

Khanbey, who was born Charles Stewart, entered the picture in early April, two weeks after most of the seven defendants had sworn a loyalty oath -- or bayat -- to al Qaeda while the hidden cameras were rolling inside the Liberty City warehouse.

In a conversation with the FBI informant on April 1, Batiste described Khanbey as his ''main man,'' identifying him as ``the Sultan.''

The Sultan, Batiste said, was generally aware of their plan, but didn't know the details because Batiste didn't want to talk about them over the phone. The FBI informant and Batiste talked about bringing ''The Sultan'' to Miami.


Batiste later called Khanbey in Chicago on a tapped phone, inviting him to Miami because he ''didn't want to make any moves'' without talking to him.

Khanbey and his wife arrived in Miami on April 11, with travel arrangements set up by his Miami protégé.

Wiretaps inside the warehouse captured Khanbey and Batiste discussing their plans to build a ''Moorish nation of 10,000 people'' and equip them with what they referred to as Moorish national security cards. They talked about recruiting, training and equipping their soldiers in green and black uniforms.

According to court papers, Khanbey said ' . . . they were `vanguards' and 'angels' here to rid the Earth of filth; that they were a nation and would do what nations do; and that as long as they stood on Islam they were impregnable.''

But within days, relations soured in the ranks. Getchell said Thursday that Khanbey openly worried that law enforcement had infiltrated the group. On April 19, the rift between Khanbey and Batiste escalated into gunplay.

Miami police responded to reports of a shot fired inside the ''embassy'' at 6260 NW 15th Ave.

Khanbey was initially charged with aggravated battery for allegedly aiming a pistol and firing one shot past the left ear of Master Ali-

Atheea -- a member of the group who has not been charged in the terror indictment, according to a Miami police report. Police recovered a loaded 9 mm Hi-Point pistol loaded with seven rounds of ammunition.


Khanbey was freed on bond, but was rearrested on May 5 by an agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives and charged with being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.

That's when Khanbey, who was convicted in Illinois on rape charges in 1977, started cooperating with the terror investigation.

Khanbey, who faces up to 20 years on the new gun charge, is being held inside one of the buildings that Batiste's paramilitary group was purportedly plotting to destroy, the Federal Detention Center in Miami.

Reached by phone in Chicago, Khanbey's wife, Queen Zakiyaah, said her husband met Batiste in Chicago about five years ago. Like Batiste, Khanbey's family has roots in Louisiana, his wife said.

She said the couple traveled to South Florida in April to help teach Moorish Science principles. Moorish Science was founded in the early 20th Century by the Prophet Noble Drew Ali. The religion blends Christianity, Judaism and Islam and stresses discipline through martial arts.

Lyglenson Lemorin, a permanent U.S. resident from Haiti who was arrested last week in Atlanta, was denied bond Thursday. Lemorin, who said he has known Batiste about 18 months, is awaiting transfer to Miami.

In a post-arrest statement to agents, Lemorin acknowledged swearing the loyalty oath to al Qaeda and participating in martial arts and paramilitary training exercises at the ''embassy'' in Liberty City.

More details are expected to emerge this afternoon at bond hearings in Miami for the other six defendants .

Miami Herald staff writers Charles Rabin, Scott Hiaasen and Evan S. Benn contributed to this report.