3 men charged with terror conspiracy ahead of NATO

Associated Press
Protesters block traffic on Michigan Ave., as they march through the city during a demonstration Friday, May 18, 2012, ahead of this weekends' NATO summit in Chicago. Thousands of nurses and other protesters gathered for the noisy but largely peaceful demonstration with a broad spectrum of causes, from anti-war activists to Occupy protesters to a Chicago Women’s AIDS project. The demonstrations Friday were the largest yet ahead of a two-day NATO summit that is expected to draw even larger protests. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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CHICAGO (AP) — Three men arrested earlier this week when police raided a Chicago apartment were being held Saturday on terrorism conspiracy charges, accused of trying to make Molotov cocktails ahead of the NATO summit.

Their attorney, Sarah Gelsomino, said the men are "absolutely in shock and have no idea where these charges are coming from."

They were scheduled to be in court later Saturday for a bond hearing on charges of conspiracy to commit terrorism, possession of an explosive or incendiary device and providing material support for terrorism.

Six others arrested Wednesday in the South Side raid were released Friday without being charged.

Among the items seized by federal authorities was beer-making equipment, Gelsomino said.

Chicago police Lt. Kenneth Stoppa declined to elaborate on the case beyond confirming the charges against the three who were still in custody.

Police identified the men being held as Brian Church, 20, of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.; Jared Chase, 24, of Keene, N.H.; and Brent Vincent Betterly, 24. A police spokesman gave Betterly's hometown as Oakland Park, Mass., but no such town exists. There is an Oakland Park, Fla., that is near Fort Lauderdale.

The three came to Chicago in late April to take part in May Day protests, said activist Bill Vassilakis, who said he let them stay in his apartment.

He said Betterly was an industrial electrician and had volunteered to help wire service at The Plant, a former meatpacking facility that has been turned into a food incubator with the city's backing.

Vassilakis said he thought the charges were unwarranted.

"All I can say about that is, if you knew Brent, you would find that to be the most ridiculous thing you've ever heard. He was the most stand-up guy that was staying with me. He and the other guys had done nothing but volunteer their time and energy," he said."

Authorities in Oakland Park, Fla., said Betterly and two other young men walked into a public high school last fall after a night of tequila drinking and took a swim in the pool, according to a report in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

They stole fire extinguishers from three school buses, discharged one and smashed a cafeteria window with another. The vandalism caused about $2,000 in damage, the newspaper said.

Betterly was charged with burglary, theft and criminal mischief.

Security has been high throughout the city in preparation for the summit, where delegations from about 60 countries will discuss the war in Afghanistan and European missile defense.

Elsewhere, Chicago was mostly quiet. Downtown streets were largely empty, though that is not unusual for a weekend. Security guards stood watch outside many downtown buildings. In places, the guards almost outnumbered pedestrians.

Outside the Chicago Board of Trade, a frequent target of Occupy protesters, a lone protester wore a sign about wasteful military spending.

Closer to the summit site, commuter rail service was halted for a short time so police could investigate a suspicious package on a train running beneath the convention center where diplomats will be meeting. Investigators determined there was no threat.

Among the pre-NATO protests planned for Saturday was a march on the home of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The bigger show will be on Sunday, the start of the two-day NATO summit, when thousands of protesters are expected to march 2½ miles from a band shell on Lake Michigan to the McCormick Place convention center, where delegates will be meeting.

On Friday, police on bicycles and foot tailed activists through the streets but ignored taunts and went out of their way to make as few arrests as possible. Protesters made a lot of noise and tried to evade police, but otherwise were relatively uneventful.

In all, police said there was a single arrest on a charge of aggravated battery of a police officer. Another man was briefly taken into custody, but he was released a short time later after being questioned by police, a department spokesman said.

Michael Olstewski, a recent music school graduate who came to Chicago from Atlanta, was one of hundreds of protesters who took to the streets Friday for a spontaneous march. He said he would not rule out provoking police to arrest him later "if I feel it's strategic and a powerful statement."

___

Associated Press writers Ryan Foley, Jason Keyser, Jim Suhr and Jeffrey McMurray contributed to this report.

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