July 5, 2006

Judge denies bond for Miami terrorism suspects

By Jane Sutton

MIAMI (Reuters) - Six men charged with swearing allegiance
to al Qaeda and plotting to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago
were refused bond on Wednesday by a U.S. judge who called them
a danger to the community.

The six pleaded not guilty on Friday to charges they had
conspired to wage war against the U.S. government by blowing up
commercial and government buildings, including FBI offices and
jails holding Muslim prisoners.

Government officials described them after their arrest last
month as "homegrown terrorists" but said they posed no real
threat because they had no actual al Qaeda contacts, no weapons
and no means of carrying out attacks.

At a bond hearing on Wednesday, their attorneys said the
defendants were manipulated by paid FBI informants who did most
of the talking and then took conversations out of context.

"This case is essentially something the government set up,
to knock it down," said John Wylie, attorney for alleged
ringleader Narseal Batiste.

A co-defendant's attorney called the case a scam set up by
Batiste to get money from a confidential informant who posed as
an al Qaeda agent. Batiste had asked the informant for guns,
boots and $50,000 in cash, according to the indictment.

But U.S. Magistrate Ted Bandstra refused to free the
defendants on bail. He said the charges were serious, involved
violence and there was "strong and sufficient evidence" to
indicate they had conspired to commit illegal acts on their
own, without inducement from government informants.

"I cannot conceive of conditions that could be set that
seem sufficient to ensure the safety of the community if
released," Bandstra said.

"You probably are shocked," he said sympathetically to
relatives and friends who had gathered in the courtroom and
offered their homes as collateral for bail.


The case was based largely on evidence provided by two FBI
informants. One infiltrated the group of young black men who
lived on and off at a warehouse in a poor Miami neighborhood.

Several were minimum-wage workers at a construction company
Batiste ran, and belonged to a sect that mixes Islam, Buddhism,
Christianity, Freemasonry, Gnosticism and Taoism.

FBI agent Tony Velazquez, who monitored many recorded and
wiretapped conversations, described several meetings, including
one where defendant Burson Augustin "made reference to taking
over the world." But he often could not recall specifics about
which man was present and when.

He said the men had trained with paintball guns and had
discussed target-shooting in the woods. "I'm uncertain as to
whether the reference was to a firearm or a paintball,"
Velazquez said.

No guns, explosives or other weapons were found when the
FBI raided the group's warehouse. But one had a knife and a
cosh in his car, U.S. Attorney Jacqueline Arango said.

She said Batiste "was trying to create that unholy alliance
that we all fear" between disaffected people and al Qaeda, and
that the defendants should stay locked up because each took
steps to put the conspiracy in motion, such as taking
surveillance photos of targeted buildings.

"Not one of them walked away from this," Arango said.

Batiste and Augustin appeared in court on Wednesday along
with co-defendants Patrick Abraham, Rotschild Augustine,
Naudimar Herrera and Stanley Grant Phanor. A seventh suspect,
Lyglenson Lemorin, was arrested and held in Atlanta.