Fort Dix suspects indicted

Five of the 6 alleged plotters could face life in prison if convicted.

Posted: June 06, 2007

Six suspected terrorists arrested last month in an alleged plot to attack the Fort Dix Army base were indicted yesterday by a federal grand jury in New Jersey.

Five of the six were charged with planning to kill U.S. military personnel, an offense that carries a potential life sentence. The sixth defendant was charged with a weapons offense that carries a maximum 10-year term.

All six have been held without bail since being arrested on May 7. They are expected to be arraigned in U.S. District Court in Camden next week on the charges contained in the five-count indictment.

The indictment repeats the charges and allegations made public at the time the arrests were announced, but provides few new details about the case.

The arrests last month capped a 16-month investigation by the FBI and the South Jersey Joint Terrorism Task Force.

The case includes dozens of secretly recorded conversations made by two cooperating witnesses who managed to infiltrate the group. The FBI informants allegedly took part in a training session in February with the others that included firearms practice and watching radical Islamic videotapes produced by al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.

The indictment charges that five of the defendants, Mohamad Shnewer, 22; Serdar Tatar, 23; and brothers Dritan Duka, 28; Shain Duka, 26; and Eljvir Duka, 23, "were inspired by . . . al-Qaeda, a foreign terrorist organization" and planned an "armed paramilitary" attack on Fort Dix.

Shnewer's defense attorney, Rocco Cipparone, said yesterday he thought the indictment's description of the five defendants as being inspired by al-Qaeda was unnecessary and could taint a potential jury pool.

"When you use those words, people tend to react emotionally, not intellectually," he said. "To put that conclusion out there using those buzzwords is troublesome."

Cipparone said he hadn't seen any evidence in the case and didn't know whether the defendants had watched videos or looked at Internet sites with al-Qaeda content. He said the mention of al-Qaeda was "premature."

"When you talk about someone being inspired by something that's a state of mind, that's something they're going to have to show direct or indirect proof of," Cipparone said. "If there's proof to show, there's proof to show. But do it in a courtroom after you've vetted the jurors."

Several other lawyers in the case said they had not yet read the indictment and declined to comment. Like Cipparone, however, they have expressed concern about the high level of publicity the case has attracted and the impact that attention could have on a jury.

All six defendants have local ties. A jury pool for U.S. District Court in Camden, where the trial will likely be held, will include most of South Jersey.

The Duka brothers are Cherry Hill residents who came to this country from the former Yugoslavia as children in the 1980s. They are ethnic Albanians, and authorities say they are illegal immigrants.

Shnewer, also of Cherry Hill, is a U.S. citizen who was born in Jordan and came to this county as a child. Tatar, formerly of Cherry Hill but now living in Philadelphia, is a legal resident alien who was born in Turkey.

The sixth defendant, Agron Abdullahu, 24, of Buena Vista Township, Atlantic County, was charged with aiding and abetting the Duka brothers in possessing weapons. He came to the United States with his family from Kosovo in the late 1990s as part of a U.S.-sponsored airlift of victims of a genocidal war there.

As illegal immigrants, the Dukas cannot possess firearms.

The FBI launched its investigation into the group based on a tip provided in January 2006 by a clerk at a Circuit City store in Mount Laurel. The clerk notified police after watching a videotape that two customers had asked him to transfer to DVD. On the tape, the clerk said, he saw scenes of a group of young men firing rifles and shouting jihadist slogans.

The tape was allegedly of a firearms-training session the defendants conducted at a state park firing range in the Poconos.

The indictment alleges the group considered several military installations before settling on Fort Dix as its target. Authorities alleged the defendants conducted surveillance of the base and obtained a map of the facility from Tatar's father's pizza shop next to the base.

The six were arrested on the night Shain and Dritan Duka were to buy seven assault rifles and four handguns from a "black market" gun merchant. The gun deal was, in fact, a sting operation set up by the FBI through one of its cooperating witnesses.

Authorities said the Duka brothers were arrested after paying for the guns - three AK-47 assault rifles, four M-16 automatic assault rifles, and four handguns - at a meeting in a Cherry Hill apartment complex off Cooper Landing Road. The other four defendants were arrested in coordinated raids conducted at the same time.

The Duka brothers, Tatar and Shnewer were charged in the indictment with conspiracy to murder uniformed members of the U.S. military. The Dukas were also charged with being illegal immigrants in possession of firearms.

Abdullahu, who allegedly provided a pistol, a shotgun and two rifles for the training sessions, was charged with aiding and abetting the Duka brothers' illegal weapons possession.


Contact staff writer George Anastasia at 856-779-3846 or ganastasia@phillynews.com.

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