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 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 authorities thought the men 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 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 he wanted to start “a real ground war.” Arango said Baptiste likened Osama 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.
Under questioning by Batiste’s 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.
The men face conspiracy counts that carry maximum prison terms of 15 to 20 years if convicted.