May 9, 2007
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The federal government has charged five alleged Islamic radicals with plotting to kill U.S. soldiers at Fort Dix in New Jersey.
A sixth was charged with aiding and abetting the illegal possession of firearms by three of the others.
"The philosophy that supports and encourages jihad around the world against Americans came to live here in New Jersey and threaten the lives of our citizens through these defendants," New Jersey U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie said at a news conference Tuesday.
The men were arrested Monday night and heard the charges against them Tuesday in federal court. They will be held without bond pending a hearing Friday, according to Michael Drewniak, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of New Jersey.
Christie described Tuesday how the group's plot -- which he said had been in the works since January 2006 -- was foiled.
The case began to take shape in January 2006, when an employee of a store told the FBI someone had brought a "disturbing" video to be duplicated, Christie said.
The video "depicted 10 young men who appeared to be in their early 20s shooting assault weapons at a firing range in a militia-like style while calling for jihad and shouting in Arabic 'Allah Akbar,' " (Arabic for "God is Great"), according to an FBI affidavit filed with the criminal complaints.
The FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force began an investigation immediately, Christie said.
"Through the amazing efforts of these law enforcement officers, we were able to infiltrate cooperating witnesses into this terrorist cell," Christie said.
Two paid informants infiltrated the group, one in March 2006 and the other in July. Both of them "consensually recorded" meetings and conversations, according to the affidavit, filed by Special Agent John J. Ryan.
One quote from the alleged recordings was defendant Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer saying, "My intent is to hit a heavy concentration of soldiers. ... This is exactly what we are looking for. You hit four, five or six Humvees and light the whole place [up] and retreat completely without any losses."
One of the informants claimed to have connections with an arms dealer who could sell the alleged conspirators AK-47 automatic machine guns and other weapons, according to the affidavit. Both took part in firearms training with the group, the affidavit said.
Officials said the group had a collection of jihadist videos, including video of the last will and testament of two of the 19 hijackers from the September 11, 2001, attacks and video of Osama bin Laden calling Muslims to jihad.
The men also showed videos to each other of killings of U.S. military personnel around the world, officials said.
"They watched the blowing off of the arm of a United States Marine, and the room burst out into laughter," Christie said.
The men are believed to have been "inspired" by international terrorist groups, but not directly linked to a specific organization, he said.
He said defendant Shain Duka was heard on tape saying, "We can do a lot of damage with seven people. We can do big things."
A law enforcement source told CNN the group played paintball and test fired weapons as part of their training.
"These guys were clearly committed to the task they had set before them," Fran Townsend, the White House's homeland security adviser, told CNN.
Their goal was to figure out how to kill as many American soldiers as possible, Christie said.
The men had surveyed a number of bases but settled on Fort Dix because one of the defendants said he knew the base "like the back of his hand" because he had delivered pizza there, Christie said.
"They were at the point where they wanted to obtain the automatic weapons that would be the final piece in their plan... to create carnage at Fort Dix," Christie said.
"I think it could have been a disaster," he said. "These people were ready for martyrdom."
"Today we dodged a bullet. In fact, when you look at the types of weapons this group was trying to purchase, we may have dodged a lot of bullets," Special Agent Jody Weis said.
The six -- three of them brothers -- were arrested Monday night "as two of the defendants were meeting a confidential government witness to purchase three AK-47 automatic machine guns, and four semi-automatic M-16s to be used in an attack they had been planning from at least January 2006," according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Six complaints were filed Tuesday, each naming one of the six as defendant.
The U.S. Attorney's Office said the three brothers involved, all with the last name Duka, were born in the former Yugoslavia and are illegally residing in the United States. It identified them as Eljvir, 23, Shain, 26, and Dritan, 28, and said the three operate businesses known as Qadr Inc., Colonial Roofing and National Roofing.
The other three men charged are Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer, 22, of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, a U.S. citizen born in Jordan who is employed as a taxicab driver in Philadelphia; Serdar Tatar, 23, of Philadelphia, born in Turkey, whose last known employment was at a 7-Eleven; and Agron Abdullahu, 24, of Buena Vista Township, born in the former Yugoslavia and employed at a Shop-Rite Supermarket.
Abdullahu is charged only with aiding and abetting the Duka brothers' illegal possession of weapons, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison, the attorney's office said.
The complaint said the group conducted firearms training in Gouldsboro, Pennsylvania, in the Pocono Mountains. It also said Shnewer conducted surveillance at several U.S. military sites: Fort Dix and Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, and the U.S. Coast Guard building in Philadelphia.
It said Tatar acquired a map of Fort Dix and distributed it to others.
While authorities are glad to have arrested them, the individuals are "hardly hard-core terrorists," one law enforcement source said.
Another source said that while the allegations are "troubling," they are "not the type that made the hair on the back of your neck stand up."
"We believe we have caught the absolute sole and core of this plot," Christie said.
Fort Dix is used to train members of the Army Reserve and National Guard for missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world.
It was used in 1999 to house ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo, according to the Defense Department Web site.