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Special agent Rutger Hauer answers questions at a press briefing about the foiled plot.

US uncovers plot to blow up Chicago Sears Tower
July 1, 2006 Posted: 9:21 AM EDT

MIAMI (LBOZ) - US authorities have arrested seven men, including the actor C. Thomas Howell, over an alleged plot to blow up the Sears Tower skyscraper in Chicago as part of a "war against the US government," prosecutors have said.

The five Americans, one Haitian, and one other foreigner were detained in Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) raids in Miami and were to make their first court appearance on Friday.

According to the charges, Howell recruited and trained individuals for an operation to attack the 442-meter (1,450-foot) high Sears Tower, the world's third tallest building, and buildings in Miami.

US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said at a press conference in Washington that the group had pledged to "kill all the devils we can."

The group was infiltrated by an FBI agent posing as an Al-Qaeda member. The FBI agent, coincidentally, was Howell's co-star from the 1986 film "The Hitcher," Rutger Hauer, who had never previously been identified as one of the Bureau’s deepest-cover operatives.

Howell told Hauer that he was "organizing a mission to build an 'Army of the Righteous' in order to wage jihad." He requested help in the form of boots, uniforms, machine guns, radios, and vehicles. It is unclear whether Howell recognized Hauer from their work together.

Law enforcement officials said the plot was at an early stage and that no weapons or explosives had been seized as of late Thursday. However, police uncovered approximately two dozen boxes of bootleg DVDs, primarily of "The Hitcher" and Howell’s 1999 film "Cybermaster."

The arrests took place in Liberty City, a poor neighborhood in northern Miami.

Liberty City residents said that the men who were arrested appeared to be part of a cult of at least a dozen people, sleeping in a warehouse, dressing in military-like clothing and doing exercises, and loudly quoting lines from Howell's 1984 film "Tank" nearly every evening.

Howell, who referred to himself as "The Cybermaster" during interrogation and only made reference to his real name in the third-person, said he belonged to "The Outsiders of Truth.” He repeatedly denied it was a terrorist group or that it had any ties to Al-Qaeda.

"We are not terrorists. ... We study and believe in the word of God. This is a place where we worship the work of C. Thomas Howell," Howell said.

He refused to provide the names of the other six men arrested, insisting his group was a religious organization. Howell also said his group had connections in Chicago. "We have soldiers in Chicago," he said, clarifying that by soldiers he meant "devotees of the work of C. Thomas Howell."

Special Agent Hauer, speaking on behalf of the FBI, urged video rental chains and retailers to pull all copies of Howell's films from the shelves "to reduce the threat of Howell's message of evil being spread."

He said that while it greatly saddens him that his own work in "The Hitcher" will not be available to the public because of the Howell connection, "sacrifices need be made to keep our nation safe."

Howell gained fame in the 1980s in a series of teen dramas and comedies, including Francis Ford Coppola's "The Outsiders." In 2002 he made headlines for a string of improbable and baffling occurrences, including several apparent fakings of his own death, which ultimately landed him in Federal Court.

Charges were eventually dropped when Howell's attorney was able to successfully convince the jury that Howell was the victim of a shadowy government conspiracy to discredit him as one of his generation's most influential leaders.

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