The alleged ringleader of a group of men accused of plotting to blow up the Sears Tower told an FBI informant that he hoped the explosion would distract authorities so he could free Muslim prisoners at a nearby jail, a federal prosecutor said Friday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jaqueline Arango also told the court that Narseal Batiste became so worried about police surveillance that at one point he disappeared and apparently lived in a tent for a short period in the Florida Keys.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Ted Bandstra heard arguments Friday to determine whether to release the men on bond, but adjourned the hearing until Wednesday without making a decision to give the defense time to finish questioning law enforcement agents.
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 allegedly wanted to join, officials said. All pleaded not guilty Friday, and several of their lawyers requested jury trials.
Suspicious of informants
Batiste was recorded as he spoke to the informants, Arango said. He spoke of knowing an explosives expert when he rejected an offer from the informant to put him in touch with one from Europe, she said.
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 — a Chicago landmark — in order to distract law enforcement so that he could break into a nearby prison and set his “Muslim brothers” free.
During 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 that he wanted to start “a real ground war.” He added: “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” at another meeting.
Several of the arrested men sat with their hands linked with one another during the hearing, occasionally glancing at family members.
A seventh man, Lyglenson Lemorin, 31, was charged in the case in Atlanta. He was being held without bond and was scheduled to be moved to Miami. The seven men face conspiracy counts that carry maximum prison terms of 15 to 20 years.
Several relatives of the men have denied that they were violent. They described the defendants as deeply religious people who studied the Bible and took classes in Islam.
Batiste, 32, told the informant that he and his “soldiers” wanted to attend al-Qaida training and planned a “full ground war” against the U.S. to “kill all the devils we can,” according to an indictment.
‘A revolution to help the people’
The men, who were arrested last week, are also accused of seeking to support what they thought was an al-Qaida operative's effort to bomb FBI buildings in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and Washington.
The other defendants in the case were identified as Stanley Grant Phanor, Patrick Abraham; Naudimar Herrera, Burson Augustin, and Rotschild Augustine.
On Thursday, an eighth individual connected to the case surfaced. The man, identified as Charles Stewart or “Sultan Khan Bey,” has not been charged in the terrorism case. But according to court papers filed by prosecutors, Stewart met with the group and discussed some of their plans with Batiste.
Stewart apparently belonged to an organization called the Moorish National Republic, for which he was trying to recruit members. He and Batiste discussed recruitment of members and the need for “a revolution to help the people,” according to court documents.
The two later fell out after Stewart expressed concerns about law enforcement surveillance of the group's operations.
Stewart was arrested and charged May 5 on one count of illegal weapons possession, and court documents state that he told authorities about his concerns regarding Batiste's alleged plans.