Miami: Six men pleaded not guilty on Friday to charges they conspired to blow up the landmark Sears Tower in Chicago and FBI buildings in Miami and four other cities as part of a mission they hoped would be "just as good or greater" than September 11.
The pleas came a week after the men were accused in a Florida grand jury indictment of pledging loyalty to Osama Bin Laden's Al Qaida to seek support from it for their desire to "wage war" against the US government and build an Islamic army.
Outlining the government's case against the defendants, Assistant US Attorney Jacqueline Arango told a Florida magistrate's court on Friday it was based largely on two confidential witnesses or informants, one of whom posed as an Al Qaida representative.
In addition to a planned campaign of bombings and the razing of the 110-storey Sears Tower the tallest building in the United States their mission was "to build an Islamic army to wage jihad," Arango said.
She provided little direct evidence of any actual conspiracy. But Arango did show the court a grainy surveillance tape in which members of the Miami-based group can be seen swearing an oath, claimed to be one of loyalty to Al Qaida. "I will be a soldier of the Islamic soldiers," said part of the oath, which the men recited in English.
Miami Terror hearing on Hold
Laura Wides Munoz
MIAMI - The alleged ringleader of a group of aspiring terrorists accused of plotting to blow up the Sears Tower told an FBI informant that he hoped the explosion would distract law enforcement so he could free Muslim prisoners at a nearby jail, a prosecutor said Friday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jaqueline Arango also told the court that Narseal Batiste became so worried about law enforcement surveillance that at one point he apparently lived in a tent in the Florida Keys.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Ted Bandstra heard arguments Friday on whether to grant the men bail but adjourned until Wednesday without making a decision.
The six co-defendants were arrested last week in an undercover FBI sting and never had explosives or contact with al-Qaida, the terrorist network they wanted to join, officials said. All pleaded not guilty Friday, and several of their attorneys requested jury trials.
Arango said Batiste was recorded as he spoke to an informant about knowing an explosives expert.
Batiste became so suspicious of the informants that at one point his men requested they strip and remove all jewelry in exchange for clothing the group provided to ensure they were not wearing wires.
Batiste later told the FBI informant that his plan was to blow up the Sears Tower to distract law enforcement so he could break into a nearby prison and set his "Muslim brothers" free.
In one of several video clips the prosecution played, taken from surveillance footage of the group's meeting with the supposed al-Qaida informant, Batiste told the informant he wanted to start "a real ground war." He said: "You have to get people involved; you have to get them crazy."
Arango said Batiste was excited at the possibility that the al-Qaida operative knew Osama bin Laden and later likened bin Laden to "an angel."
Several of the arrested men sat with their hands linked with one another during the hearing.
A seventh man, Lyglenson Lemorin, 31, was charged in the case in Atlanta. He was being held without bail and was scheduled to be moved to Miami. The seven men face conspiracy counts that carry maximum prison terms of 15 to 20 years.
By LAURA WIDES-MUNOZ
The Associated Press
Friday, June 30, 2006; 9:20 PM
MIAMI -- A man accused of leading a group that authorities said was plotting to blow up the Sears Tower wanted to create a distraction so he could free Muslim prisoners at a nearby jail, a prosecutor said Friday.
Narseal Batiste, 32, who is accused of leading the group, was recorded as he spoke to an FBI informant who was posing as an al-Qaida operative, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacqueline Arango.
He said that his plan was to blow up the Sears Tower, distract law enforcement and break into a nearby jail to set his "Muslim brothers" free, Arango said.
Authorities have said the men never had explosives or contact with al-Qaida, the terrorist network they later thought they had joined.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Ted Bandstra heard arguments Friday on whether to release Batiste and five co-defendants on bond. They were jailed last week after being arrested in an undercover FBI sting.
All six defendants pleaded not guilty, and several of their lawyers requested jury trials. The judge adjourned the hearing until Wednesday so the defense could finish questioning law enforcement agents.
During a video clip from surveillance footage played by the prosecution, Batiste said that he wanted to start "a real ground war." Arango said Baptiste likened bin Laden to "an angel" at another meeting.
Batiste also expressed concern that the purported al-Qaida operative's plan to bomb FBI buildings in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and Washington might conflict with his own plans to blow up the Sears Tower. He eventually agreed to have his men take photos and video footage of federal buildings in Miami, Arango said.
Under questioning by Batiste attorney John Wylely, FBI agent Tony Velasquez acknowledged that the men never appeared to have any written information about making explosives, any blueprints or photographs of the Sears Tower or any Chicago-area jail, or an actual link to any terrorist organization.
A seventh man, Lyglenson Lemorin, 31, was charged in the case in Atlanta. He was being held without bail and was scheduled to be moved to Miami. The men face conspiracy counts that carry maximum prison terms of 15 to 20 years if convicted.
Prosecutors have said Batiste began recruiting and training the others in November. He met several times in December with the informant and asked for boots, uniforms, machine guns, radios, vehicles and $50,000 to help him build an "Islamic Army," according to an indictment.
Prosecutors said the group had its headquarters in a small warehouse in Miami that authorities raided last week.
Associated Press writers Giovanna Dell'Orto in Atlanta, Kasey Jones in Baltimore and Nick D'Alessio in Chicago contributed to this story.
Miami suspects back before judge