Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Federal authorities have arrested six men identified as “radical Islamists” and accused them of plotting to “kill as many American soldiers as possible” in an attack on the Fort Dix Army base in New Jersey.

The six men were arrested on Monday night in Cherry Hill, N.J., while trying to buy three AK-47 automatic machine guns and four semi-automatic M-16s in a sale set up by undercover FBI agents. Four of the men are Albanian nationals born in the former Yugoslavia, one is from Jordan, and one is from Turkey. All six have been in the U.S. for years — three are here illegally, two have work permits and one is a U.S. citizen.

In what was described by authorities as a “long and persistent plot,” five of the men are accused in a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Camden, N.J., with conspiracy to murder U.S. military personnel. A sixth man is charged with aiding and abetting the illegal possession of weapons to be used in the attack.

U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie in Newark said some members of the group conducted surveillance at Fort Dix and at Fort Monmouth, also in New Jersey, at the Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and at the U.S. Coast Guard facility in Philadelphia. He said the men had a detailed map of Fort Dix, where they planned to “use assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades” to kill U.S. soldiers.

Mr. Christie said the men did small-arms training at a shooting range in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania and distributed training videos among themselves that included depictions of U.S. soldiers being killed. He said the group laughed when watching a video of a U.S. Marine whose arm was blown off in an explosion.

He also described one of the six suspects as having delivered pizzas at Fort Dix and thus knew the layout of the base “like the back of his hand” — drawing the group’s detailed map “from memory.”

“This was a serious plot put together by people intent on harming Americans,” Mr. Christie said. “We’re very gratified federal law enforcement was able to catch these people before they acted and took innocent life.

“This is what law enforcement is supposed to do in the post-9/11 era — stay one step ahead of those who are attempting to cause harm to innocent American citizens,” Mr. Christie said.

The six appeared in federal court yesterday in Camden and were ordered held without bail for a hearing Friday.

“Today, we dodged a bullet,” said FBI special agent in charge J.P. Weiss, who heads the bureau’s Philadelphia field office. “In fact … we may have dodged a lot of bullets. We had a group that was forming a platoon to take on an army. They identified their target, they did their reconnaissance. They had maps. And they were in the process of buying weapons.”

An FBI criminal complaint said investigators started looking at the men in January 2006 after a video was brought to a retail store and copied to a DVD showing 10 men — including the six arrested — firing assault weapons “in militia-like style” at the Poconos range. The complaint said the DVD recorded the men shouting “God is great” in Arabic and urging jihad, or holy war.

On Jan. 31, 2006, the complaint said, a store official notified authorities about the DVD. Two FBI informants later infiltrated the group, recording meetings and telephone calls with the suspects as they considered attacks on U.S. military bases, the complaint said.

Authorities also put the men under surveillance while they practiced their attacks in the Poconos, training with paint-ball guns, test-firing weapons and watching videos of al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden.

The men were identified in court papers as Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer, 22, of Cherry Hill, a U.S. citizen born in Jordan and employed as a cabdriver in Philadelphia; Serdar Tatar, 23, of Philadelphia, born in Turkey and legally residing in the U.S. who worked at a 7-Eleven convenience store in Philadelphia and as a deliveryman at his father’s pizzeria: and Agron Abdullahu, 24, of Buena Vista, N.J., an ethnic Albanian born in the former Yugoslavia who is legally residing in the U.S. and works at a Shop-Rite Supermarket.

Also identified were three brothers, Eljvir Duka, 23, Dritan Duka, 28, and Shain Duka, 26, all of Cherry Hill, who are ethnic Albanians born in the former Yugoslavia who reside illegally in the U.S. and operate Colonial Roofing and National Roofing.

Abdullahu, who was described in court papers as a “sniper in Kosovo,” is the one charged only with weapons violations.

One of the informants, identified only as CW-1, developed a relationship with Shnewer and, according to the complaint, was told by Shnewer to view a video of “what appears to be the last will and testament of at least two of the hijackers” in the September 11 attacks. The complaint said Shnewer showed the second informant, known as CW-2, a number of videos that “depicted armed attacks on and the killing of United States military personnel.”

During meetings with CW-1 in early August, the complaint said Shnewer said he, Tatar and the Duka brothers were part of a group planning to attack a U.S. military base, specifically Fort Dix, and a nearby naval base. It said Shnewer said six or seven jihadists could kill at least 100 soldiers by using rocket-propelled grenades or other weapons.

The informant asked Shnewer what made him think of Fort Dix as a target.

“My intent is to hit a heavy concentration of soldiers,” the complaint quoted Shnewer as saying. “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.”

The complaint also said that Shain Duka said Tatar wanted to join the U.S. Army “so he could kill U.S. soldiers from the inside” and that when CW-2 asked about Tatar again, Dritan Duka said: “He had only one mind, how to kill American soldiers” and that “rather than waging jihad overseas, they could do so in the United States.”

Eljvir Duka, according to the complaint, was recorded as saying: “At the end, when it comes to defending your religion, when someone is trying attacks your religion, your way of life, then you go jihad.”

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