While South Florida celebrated the Miami Heat's NBA championship, these seven men were arrested in an unlikely area of Miami. Something just doesn't seem right about this story.
Group denies violent doctrine
An associate of one of the South Florida terrorism suspects said the group practiced a religion that blends Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
BY CHARLES RABIN AND ALEXANDRA ALTER
The seven South Florida men accused of plotting terrorism claim to follow teachings of the Moorish Science Temple of America, a religion that blends aspects of Christianity, Judaism and Islam and stresses self-discipline through martial arts, a close friend of one of the arrested men said Friday.
Sylvain Plantin, 30, a distant cousin and friend of indicted group member Stanley Grant Phanor, said the group's leader, Narseal Batiste, followed the religious teachings of the Prophet Noble Drew Ali, who founded the Moorish Science Temple.
''I never joined the group, but I went to a couple of Bible studies'' at the warehouse on Northwest 15th Avenue that was raided by federal agents, Plantin said.
``I never heard him [Batiste] talk about explosives or guns. He only talked about defending themselves. If I'd have heard that, believe me, I'd have been the first to call 911.''
Batiste, a martial arts enthusiast, referred to his group as ''soldiers'' in an ''Islamic army'' that would wage a ''full ground war'' against the United States, according to the indictment.
Federal officials declined to comment on any connection the indicted men may have to the religion.
Members of the movement say terrorist acts are inconsistent with their religious beliefs.
''We teach and practice love, truth, peace, freedom and justice,'' said Clark El, a member of the Moorish Science Temple of America in Chicago, who said the only official Moorish Temple in Florida is in Tampa. ``You have splinter groups that claim to be part of the Moorish Science Temple of America but are not.''
The Moorish Science Temple of America was founded in 1913 as a sect of Islam but incorporates teachings from Judaism and Christianity, said Aminah Beverly McCloud, a professor of religious studies at DePaul University in Chicago who has written about the group.
The Moorish movement is small, but not obscure, said McCloud. There are about 15 to 20 Moorish Temples across the country and two main branches. A search of phone and Internet records failed to find a temple listed in South Florida.
The movement emphasizes peace and justice, McCloud said. Adherents pray two or three times a day facing east and follow prayers and religious instructions from a book titled Holy Koran of the Moorish Science Temple of America, she said.
They also call themselves ''soldiers'' and incorporate ''quasi-military physical training'' into their spiritual program, McCloud said, stressing that traditionally the group uses martial arts as a mental discipline, not to wage war.
''They're soldiers for God in the same way that the Salvation Army is an army,'' McCloud said.
Leaders of South Florida's Muslim community said Friday that the seven suspects had no ties to area mosques. ''As far as we're concerned, they have no relation to our community,'' said Ahmed Bedier, spokesman for the Council for American Islamic Relations in South Florida.
Bedier said members of the group ``should not be called Muslims.''
© 2006 VANESSA BYERS, Vanessa: Unplugged