CHICAGO (CBS) — Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez was among several people honored by her own prosecutors Wednesday for their efforts to put arsonists behind bars, for her controversial decision to prosecute the so-called “NATO 3” on terrorism charges for a plot to use Molotov cocktails ahead of the NATO Summit two years ago.

Each year, Alvarez’s office presents Arson Awards to prosecutors, police officers, firefighters, and civilians who played key roles in arson prosecutions.

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Alvarez hosted the Wednesday’s ceremony at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, and said many arson cases would go unsolved if not for the work of those who were honored at Wednesday’s ceremony.

“Endangering human life, it is unacceptable,” she said.

Among others, prosecutors recognized the police officers who infiltrated a group of Occupy Chicago protesters during the NATO Summit in 2012. Two undercover officers witnessed four people constructing Molotov cocktails

“The defendants constructed four Molotov cocktails in the presence of undercover officers Nadia Chikko and Mehmet Uygun,” Assistant State’s Atty. Matthew Thrun said.

Alvarez was surprised when Assistant State’s Attorney Mary Lacy, the office’s arson specialist, presented her with an award for the decision to prosecute the so-called “NATO 3” – Brian Church, Jared Chase and Brent Betterly – as terrorists.

“Her courage in prosecuting this case went a long way towards preventing other terrorists from coming to Chicago,” Lacy said.

The “NATO 3” were convicted in February of possessing incendiary devices, but were cleared of terrorism charges.

Church was sentenced to 5 years, Chase to 8 years and Betterly to 6.

Alvarez noted she took a lot of criticism for the decision to try the “NATO 3” on terrorism charges.

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“What were we supposed to do? Wait for a Chicago police officer to be set on fire?” she said.

The high-profile trial raised questions about police entrapment, the First Amendment, and whether the men were “overcharged” for their activities and drunken discussions before the NATO summit here two years ago.

Alvarez has defended charging the men under a little-used state terrorism statute, and said she was proud Chikko and Uygun for unveiling what prosecutors said was a dangerous plot to set police officers on fire; and destroy police stations, President Barack Obama’s campaign headquarters, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s home.

The subject matter at the Arson Awards ceremony was heavy at times, concerning loss of life in some cases, but the ceremony wasn’t without levity, as Lacy laid out the cases, including one in which a man threw a Molotov cocktail through a window, and blamed it on a friend.

“She knew he was lying, because he didn’t have any friends,” Lacy said.

Even police officers and arson investigators seemed surprised at the gruesome details of one defendant’s case.

“His pet parrot Spencer bit him. Defendant placed Spencer in a microwave oven in a coffee can,” Lacy said.

Andrea Cook witnessed a drunken fight between her neighbors in a North Side high-rise.

“I looked out my peephole, and saw them light a mattress on fire, and then I got trapped in my apartment,” she said.

Cook said she’ll never forget Nicholas Olsen’s words to his live-in boyfriend after starting the fire.

“The mattress is on fire. I love you,” she said.

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Cook said the firefighters who save lives deserve the recognition.