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.