Relatives deny suspects are terrorists Saturday, June 24, 2006 Posted: 1604 GMT (0004 HKT)
But the federal grand jury indictment also painted a picture of a group that had no weapons or other supplies for an alleged "jihad" that was intended to be "as good or greater than 9/11."
Narseal Batiste, considered the recruiter of the group, according to the document, tried to reach out to al Qaeda by contacting someone who was an FBI operative posing as a member of the terrorist network.
Batiste allegedly told the informant that he was organizing an Islamic army to wage a jihad in the United States.
The indictment says Batiste gave the informant a list of equipment he needed, including "boots, uniforms, machine guns, radios and vehicles" as well as bullet-proof vests and $50,000 in cash. (Read the full indictment -- PDF (http://i.a.cnn.net/cnn/2006/images/06/23/cts.batiste.indict.pdf))
The family of Stanley Grant Phanor, who also is named in the indictment, said Friday that Phanor is innocent of all charges and is a practicing Roman Catholic -- not a Muslim. (Full story (http://edition.cnn.com/2006/US/06/23/miami.reax/index.html))
"They all call themselves brothers and they are well-mannered," his older sister, Marlene Phanor, said. "All they were trying to do was clean up the community. We are Catholic. He's Catholic."
Gina Lemorin, a sister of Lyglenson Lemorin, another of the seven indicted men, said her brother was involved with the group to study religion.
She said her brother had been with the group in Miami doing construction work, but once the group began practicing "witchcraft" he left and moved to Atlanta, Georgia, about four months ago.
Lemorin has children who live in Atlanta, she said, and he "is not a terrorist."
Lemorin, 31, was arrested Thursday in Atlanta, the same day four of the other suspects were arrested in Miami.
Phanor was already in state custody in Florida on a firearms charge, and Patrick Abraham, a Haitian, has been in the custody of immigration officials since his arrest in May for allegedly overstaying his visa, U.S. officials said.
Lemorin appeared in court Friday afternoon. The slender, bearded man wore a white T-shirt and black pants and had his hands cuffed behind his back during the hearing.
"There's less than meets the eye here," said his public defender Jimmy Hardy. "The only al Qaeda person was the undercover guy."
Lemorin, a musician who worked at the Abercrombie & Fitch clothing store, emigrated to the U.S. from Haiti when he was 11 and became a legal citizen in 1993, Hardy told reporters outside the courthouse.
In Miami, five of the other six suspects appeared in a federal court Friday. Phanor was the only Miami suspect who wasn't at the hearing.
Batiste was joined in court by Abraham, Naudimar Herrera, Burson Augustin and Rotschild Augustine. Hands shackled and wearing tan jail uniforms, the men addressed the court in polite and quiet tones.
Batiste said he would be represented by the public defender's office and told the court he was self-employed, made $30,000 last year and had four children. The other four defendants agreed to court-appointed attorneys.
Augustine told the court he had $10 in a checking account, and the others said they had no money. Herrera told the court he was employed. An arraignment was set for June 30.
Phanor, 31, the sixth man arrested in Miami, was apparently arrested Tuesday on charges of carrying a concealed weapon.
Phanor has been arrested six times since 1996 for various offenses, including possession of marijuana, driving on a suspended license and carrying a concealed weapon, according to Florida law enforcement records.
At a Justice Department news conference Friday in Washington, Deputy FBI Director John Pistole described their plan as "more aspirational than operational."
Batiste allegedly provided the informant "with a list of shoe sizes for the purchase of military boots for his 'soldiers,' " Pistole said.
Also at the conference, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales described the men as examples of "homegrown terrorists" who "may prove to be as dangerous as groups like al Qaeda" and who have come "to view their home country as the enemy."
Gonzales said there never was an immediate threat.
"We felt that the combination of the planning and the overt acts taken were sufficient to support this prosecution and that's why we took this action," Gonzales said. "There is no immediate threat ... part of the reason for that is because they didn't have the materials they requested, they didn't receive the weapons, at least we don't know of."
According to the indictment, Batiste "recruited and supervised individuals in order to organize and train for a mission to wage war against the United States government, which included a plot to destroy by explosives the Sears Tower in Chicago, Illinois," the nation's tallest building, the document said.
"The conspirators pledged an oath to al Qaeda and supported a purported mission of al Qaeda to destroy FBI buildings within the United States," it said.
The document said that Batiste wanted to "attend al Qaeda training, along with five of his soldiers, during the second week of April and further detailed his mission to wage a 'full ground war' against the United States in order to 'kill all the devils we can' ... beginning with the destruction of the Sears Tower."
The indictment accuses the seven men of swearing an oath of loyalty to al Qaeda.
The document also alleges that the suspects may have been targeting buildings other than the Sears Tower.