A judge has denied bond to six men accused of plotting to blow up the Sears Tower and conspiring to help al-Qaida blow up several federal buildings
U.S. Magistrate Judge Ted Bandstra ruled that the men posed too great a risk to the community to be released.
"The charges against each of the defendants are serious charges and constitute counts of violence," Bandstra stated, adding that it was "not relevant that the plans appear to be beyond the abilities of the defendants."
The six men, who have pleaded not guilty, were arrested June 22 in Miami's Liberty City neighborhood as part of an undercover FBI sting operation. They are 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.
Bandstra said he did not make his decision based on the defendants' risk of flight, given their strong family ties and their lawyers' assertions that a number their relatives would be willing to post their own property as bond.
Many of the six accused men's relatives also attended the hearing, one clasping her hands in prayer, another man offering a brief "thumbs up" sign.
Attorneys for the defendants argued in vain that the government's case was overblown and that their clients should be released pending trial.
"The case is essentially something the government set up to knock down, " said John Wylie, an attorney for the group's alleged ringleader, Narseal Batiste. Wylie and the other attorneys suggested that the informants continually sought out Batiste to bait him and his group into offering to help conduct surveillance of the federal buildings. They also questioned how many conversations occurred between Batiste and the informants before the authorities were alerted and the FBI began monitoring their communication.
In a written request to have Batiste released until trial, Wylie said that he was unable to find any other cases where the government had provided a meeting place, materials and "a sham Al-Quaeda representative (a cooperating witness) to create the basis for charges of terrorist conspiracy."
Nathan Clark, an attorney for defendant Rotschild Augustin, 33, said after the hearing that he was not surprised by the judge's decision given the charges.
"We didn't put on any witnesses or testimony because we have yet to investigate the case," he said. "But the government's case is not as strong as it appears."
According to the prosecution, Batiste, 32, allegedly approached an acquaintance and asked the man to put him in touch with someone in the Middle East who might be able to fund their plan.
The acquaintance alerted the FBI, which helped put Batiste in touch with a man pretending to be an al-Qaida contact who had them swear an oath of allegiance to the terrorist group. But the men never had explosives or contact with the terrorist network, according to officials.
The other defendants in the case include Stanley Grant Phanor, 31, Patrick Abraham, 26, Naudimar Herrera, 22, and Burson Augustin, 21.
A seventh man, Lyglenson Lemorin, 31, was charged in the case in Atlanta. He was also being held without bond and was scheduled to be moved to Miami. Each of the men face four counts including two counts of conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, and one count each of conspiracy to destroy buildings by explosives and sedition against the U.S. government. The counts carry maximum sentences of between 15 and 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 Islam.
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