Catching Terrorism Plotters in the Act

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    Embed <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/10080640/10080643" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">
  • Transcript

Criminal Complaint

Below is the criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in New Jersey in connection with the alleged Fort Dix terrorism plot. Attachment A to the complaint is virtually the same for all defendants, according to the Department of Justice.

The Department of Justice on Tuesday announced the arrest of six Islamic militants in connection with a plot to attack the Fort Dix Army Base in New Jersey.

Last August, at least two of the suspects were secretly recorded by a government informant discussing details of a plot to kill U.S. soldiers at the base, according to the criminal complaint.

Robert Siegel talks with Michael Isikoff, investigative correspondent for Newsweek magazine, about the alleged plot against Fort Dix and about how domestic terrorism plots in recent years have been uncovered.

From what you've heard so far [of the Fort Dix plot], a group of immigrant Muslims — mostly from the former Yugoslavia, some of them here illegally — make a very suspicious video, and are infiltrated by an informant. Does that pattern sound familiar from other, similar cases?

There's no evidence of any contact between this group and anybody overseas associated with al-Qaida or anybody else. But this is, in fact, the phenomenon that actually most worries counterterrorism analysts and security specialists at this point. It's the homegrown phenomenon of people who — motivated by their anger and fury at the United States or Western interests — plot on their own, taking inspiration from videos that they download off the Internet.

It's very hard to identify those people, because they don't connect up with people who al-Qaida leaders who have been captured can identify. They are people cropping up all the time on our soil, as well as elsewhere in Western Europe.

Putting today's case in the context of other antiterrorist convictions or investigations, what's the record so far for federal authorities, roughly?

The record is mixed. The Justice Department counts something like over 260 terrorism prosecutions in the United States. When you look at those under a microscope, you find that many of them are actually for lesser charges, and they say they're terrorism-related.

There've been a number of ... high-profile cases that have led to convictions, most famously the Lackawanna Six in Buffalo, N.Y. — people who went overseas for training in Pakistan and then came back to the United States. Others involving the paintball case in Virginia —

It was called the paintball case because they were supposedly practicing playing paintball.

Right. Those cases have led to convictions — in many cases, lengthy prison sentences for the defendants. But critics say that they never actually involved active terrorist plots in the United States. So how you count those, or how significant you count those, is really left to individuals.

In the timeline of this case today, a video is spotted in January 2006. By April 2006, there is a confidential informant within this group. So the group was infiltrated pretty quickly.

Right. The FBI, using its standard tactics, infiltrates using a confidential informant and then monitors the activity as it goes along. It goes on for quite some time. In fact, in the affidavit, the discussion about the attacks continues right through to March 2007 — just a couple of months ago.

If and when cases like this go to trial, a common defense tactic is to say that informant — he was really the instigator. ... How far can somebody who is being an informant go in these cases?

The key is, there has to be a predicate. The government has to prove that these people were predisposed to engage in criminal conduct before the informant infiltrates the group, before the informant actually tapes them doing something that is then used as incriminating evidence. If there is sufficient predicate established, then the later evidence is admissible and can be quite probative.

One aspect of this that may attract some political comment is that there were some illegal immigrants among the group.

Exactly, and that is sure to be seized on by the critics of U.S. immigration policy as further evidence of the threat that illegal immigrants can pose to the country —

And they had been living here for some time.

And [they] had been living here for some time.

Although, ironically, in this case, it is worth noting that the lead plotter appears to have been a United States citizen.

Transcript contains minor edits for clarity.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.