When seven ragtag men in a Miami religious sect were indicted in 2006 for their role in a bizarre plot to blow up the FBI Miami office and Chicago’s Sears Tower, then- Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said the case represented “a new brand of terrorism” among homegrown gangs that “may prove to be as dangerous as groups like al-Qaeda.”
Justice Department officials used similar rhetoric in a 2003 case against a Tampa-area man and his associates who allegedly supported a reign of terror by a violent Palestinian group. The officials did so again in a 2004 case involving a Dallas charity known as the Holy Land Foundation, which they said provided “blood money” to finance overseas suicide bombings.
But juries in all three cases saw things differently than the government’s national security team. In the most recent disappointment for federal prosecutors, a jury last week did not reach a verdict in the Miami case for the second time. In the Holy Land case, one defendant was cleared of the charges and jurors deadlocked on charges against the others. After 12 days of deliberation, jurors in the Tampa case acquitted two men and could not agree on the charges against the main defendant.
The department’s domestic terrorism record to date — no new attacks, but few blockbuster convictions and some high-profile hung juries or acquittals — has provoked criticism of its early strategy for going after homegrown terrorist cells and the people who fund plots well before deadly events occur. (MORE)