Updated at 8:50 a.m., Tuesday, May 8, 2007
6 face charges in plot to attack soldiers at Fort Dix
By WAYNE PARRY
The defendants, all of them from the former Yugoslavia and the Middle East, include a pizza deliveryman suspected of using his job to scout out the military base.
Authorities said there was no direct evidence connecting them to any international terror organizations such as al-Qaida. But several of the men said they were ready to kill and die "in the name of Allah," according to court records.
Their goal was "to kill as many soldiers as possible" in attacks with mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and guns, prosecutors said.
They also allegedly spoke of attacking the Navy base in Philadelphia during the annual Army-Navy football game, when the place would be full of sailors, and conducted surveillance at other military installations in the region.
"This was a serious plot put together by people who were intent on harming Americans," U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie said. "We're very gratified federal law enforcement was able to catch these people before they acted and took innocent life."
Investigators said they infiltrated the group with an informant well over a year ago and bided their time while they secretly recorded the defendants, five of whom lived in Cherry Hill, a Philadelphia suburb about 20 miles from Fort Dix.
One defendant, Eljvir Duka, was recorded as saying: "In the end, when it comes to defending your religion, when someone is trying attacks your religion, your way of life, then you go jihad."
The six were arrested Monday night trying to buy AK-47 assault weapons, M-16s and other weapons from an FBI informant, authorities said. They were scheduled to appear before a federal judge in Camden on Tuesday afternoon to face charges of conspiracy to kill U.S. servicemen.
Four of the men were born in the former Yugoslavia, one was born in Jordan and one came from Turkey, authorities said. All had lived in the United States for years. Three were in the United States illegally; two had green cards allowing them to stay in this country permanently; and the sixth is a U.S. citizen.
One suspect spoke of using rocket-propelled grenades to kill at least 100 soldiers, according to court documents.
"If you want to do anything here, there is Fort Dix and I don't want to exaggerate, and I assure you that you can hit an American base very easily," Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer was recorded as saying last August.
"It doesn't matter to me whether I get locked up, arrested or get taken away," Serdar Tatar was quoted as saying. "Or I die, it doesn't matter. I'm doing it in the name of Allah."
Asked if those arrested had any links to al-Qaida, White House spokesman Tony Snow said it appears "there is no direct evidence of a foreign terrorist tie."
In court documents, prosecutors said the suspects came to the attention of authorities in January 2006 when a shopkeeper alerted the FBI about a "disturbing" video he had been asked to copy onto a DVD.
The video showed 10 young men in their early 20s "shooting assault weapons at a firing range ... while calling for jihad and shouting in Arabic 'Allah Akbar' (God is great)," the complaint said. The 10 included six of those arrested, authorities said.
By March 2006, the group had been infiltrated by an informant who developed a relationship with Shnewer, and the informant secretly recorded meetings last August, according to court documents.
Christie said one of the suspects worked at Super Mario's Pizza in nearby Cookstown and delivered pizzas to the base, using that opportunity to scout out Fort Dix for an attack.
"Clearly, one of the guys had an intimate knowledge of the base from having been there delivering pizzas," Christie said.
The men also allegedly conducted surveillance at other area military installations, including Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, and a Philadelphia Coast Guard station.
Besides Shnewer, Tatar and Duka, the other three men were identified in court papers as Dritan Duka, Shain Duka and Agron Abdullahu.
Fort Dix is used to train soldiers, particularly reservists. It also housed refugees from Kosovo in 1999.
The description of the suspects as "Islamic militants" caused renewed worry among New Jersey's Muslim community. Hundreds of Muslim men from New Jersey were rounded up and detained in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks, but none were connected to that plot.
"If these people did something, then they deserve to be punished to the fullest extent of the law," said Sohail Mohammed, a lawyer who represented scores of detainees after the 2001 attacks. "But when the government says 'Islamic militants,' it sends a message to the public that Islam and militancy are synonymous."
"Don't equate actions with religion," he said.
Associated Press Writers Matt Apuzzo and Ben Feller in Washington, Geoff Mulvihill in Mount Laurel, Tom Hester Jr. in Trenton and Jeffrey Gold in Newark contributed to this story.