MIAMI - June 22, 2006 - Seven people were arrested Thursday in connection with the early stages of a plot to attack Chicago's Sears Tower and other buildings in the U.S., including the FBI office in Miami, a federal law enforcement official said.
As part of the raids related to the arrests, FBI agents swarmed a warehouse in Miami's Liberty City area, using a blowtorch to take off a metal door.
The official told The Associated Press the alleged plotters were mainly Americans with no apparent ties to al-Qaida or other foreign terrorist organizations. He spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to pre-empt news conferences planned for Friday in Washington and Miami.
Miami U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta said in a statement that the investigation was an ongoing operation and that more details would be released Friday.
"There is no imminent threat to Miami or any other area because of these operations," said Richard Kolko, spokesman for FBI headquarters in Washington. He declined further comment.
Residents living near the warehouse said the men taken into custody described themselves as Mulims and had tried to recruit young people to join their group, which seemed militaristic.
The residents said FBI agents spent several hours in the neighborhood showing photos of the suspects and seeking information. They said the men had lived in the area about a year.
The men slept in the warehouse, said Tashawn Rose, 29. "They would come out late at night and exercise. It seemed like a military boot camp that they were working on there. They would come out and stand guard."
She talked to one of the men about a month ago: "They seemed brainwashed. They said they had given their lives to Allah."
Rose said the men tried to recruit her younger brother and nephew for a karate class.
"It was weird," she said.
Gov. Jeb Bush was briefed on the situation Thursday, according to his spokeswoman, Alia Faraj.
"We have great confidence in the federal, state and local law enforcement agencies who are committed to keeping our country safe," Faraj said.
She added that there has been greater communication between state and federal agencies since the 2001 terror attacks.
The 110-floor Sears Tower is the nation's tallest building. Its skydeck was closed for about a month and a half after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Several terrorism investigations have had south Florida links. Several of the Sept. 11 hijackers lived and trained in the area, including ringleader Mohamed Atta, and several plots by Cuban-Americans against Fidel Castro's government have been based in Miami.
Jose Padilla, a former resident once accused of plotting to detonate a radioactive bomb in the U.S., is charged in Miami with being part of a support cell for Islamic extremists. Padilla's trial is set for this fall.
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)