FBI Pins Fort Dix Plot on 'Homegrown' Terrorists

The six foreign-born men accused of a plot to attack the Army base at Fort Dix, N.J., led seemingly ordinary American lives in Cherry Hill, N.J., the FBI says. But a copy of a video shows them firing assault weapons and praising jihad.

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The New Jersey men who were arrested for allegedly plotting to attack soldiers at Fort Dix led seemingly ordinary lives. They had jobs. They lived in Cherry Hill, a leafy suburb just outside of Philadelphia. They came home to apartments in brick buildings filled with working-class Russians, Yugoslavians and Albanians. But prosecutors say this group personifies the new face of terrorism.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Take a look at the six Muslims who allegedly wanted to kill hundreds of soldiers at Fort Dix and you'd see nothing out of the ordinary. They were convenience store clerks and roofers and cab drivers and pizza deliverymen. One, Yugoslav Eljvir Duka, went by the nickname Elvis. Serdar Tatar was born in Turkey. He sometimes went by the nickname Tony. And all that normalcy is exactly what worries FBI agent JP Weiss.

Agent JP WEISS (Federal Bureau of Investigation): These homegrown terrorists can prove to be as dangerous as any known group, if not more so. They operate under the radar. Today, we dodged a bullet. In fact, when you look at the type of weapons that this group was trying to purchase, we may have dodged a lot of bullets.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Prosecutors are the first to say the discovery of this plot was a lucky break. A Mount Laurel shopkeeper alerted the police to a disturbing video he had been asked to copy onto a DVD. It allegedly showed 10 young men shooting assault weapons at a firing range while calling for jihad and praising Allah.

U.S. attorney Christopher Christie said they weren't bound by a particular complaint, just an ideology.

Mr. CHRISTOPHER CHRISTIE (U.S. Attorney, District of New Jersey): The philosophy that supports and encourages jihad around the world against Americans came to live here in New Jersey, and threatened the lives of our citizens through these offenders. Fortunately, law enforcement in New Jersey was here to stop them.

TEMPLE-RASTON: All told, the group included brothers from Yugoslavia, a Jordanian and a young man from Turkey. All had been in the United States for years. Three had been here illegally, two had green cards, and one was a citizen. But together, Weiss said, they formed a platoon intent on taking on the Army.

Prosecutors said they were arrested now, after 15 months of surveillance, because they have been trying to buy weapons that would be the final piece in their plan.

Mr. WEISS: They'd identified their target. They did the reconnaissance. They had maps. And they were in the process of buying weapons. Luckily, we were able to stop that.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Prosecutors said they had considered many installations for an attack.

Mr. WEISS: They also covertly surveyed not only Fort Dix, but other installations here in New Jersey and in Philadelphia. Fort Monmouth, Dover Air Force base in Delaware, the Lake Hurst Naval Station and the Coast Guard building on Delaware Avenue in Philadelphia.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Twenty-three-year-old Serdar Tatar allegedly said he was prepared to martyr himself. One of his Cherry Hill neighbors, who declined to be named, said he'd known Tatar since he was a student at Cherry Hill West High School. He had helped him deliver pizzas. Other neighbors of the men declined to talk, or claimed they hardly new them. The men have been charged with conspiring to kill U.S. servicemen. They have been held without bail until another hearing scheduled for Friday.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

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Independent Cell Allegedly Hatched Fort Dix Plan

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 New Jersey men who were arrested for allegedly plotting to kill hundreds of soldiers at Fort Dix seemed quite ordinary. Among them was a convenience store clerk, a roofer, a cab driver and a man who sometimes delivered pizzas to the base.

In all, six foreign-born Muslims were accused Tuesday of planning to assault the Army base and slaughter scores of United States soldiers with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.

Their plot was foiled by an unidentified clerk who tipped off authorities in January 2006 after one of the suspects came into his New Jersey store and asked him to dub a videotape onto a DVD. The clerk alerted officials after he started to watch the tape. It showed 10 men shooting weapons at a firing range and calling for jihad, prosecutors said.

"If we didn't get that tip, I couldn't be sure what would happen," U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie said Tuesday.

FBI Special Agent in Charge J.P. Weis said that the men were not directly linked to al-Qaida, or any other international group. They are thought to have created the jihad mission themselves, without outside support.

"These homegrown terrorists can prove to be as dangerous as any known group, if not more so," Weis said after court Tuesday. "They operate under the radar. Today we dodged a bullet. In fact, when you look at the type of weapons that this group was trying to purchase, we may have dodged a lot of bullets."

Christie echoed his concern: "The philosophy that supports and encourages jihad against Americans came to live here in New Jersey and threatened the lives of our citizens through these defendants."

The suspects are Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer, 22; Dritan Duka, 28; Shain Duka, 26; Eljvir Duka, 23; Serdar Tatar, 23; and Agron Abdullahu, 24. They were all ordered held without bail until a hearing on Friday.

The Dukas were brothers from Yugoslavia, Shnewer was a Jordanian. Tatar was born in Turkey. All of the men had been in the U.S. for years. Three were here illegally, two others had green cards and one was a citizen. Together, Weis said, they formed a platoon intent on taking on the army.

They had identified their target, Fort Dix. They did their reconnaissance. They had maps. They were trying to buy more weapons. Prosecutors said they were arrested now, after 15 months of surveillance, because they were trying to buy the AK-47s and M-16s that would set in motion the final piece in their plan.

Tatar had worked in his father's pizzeria, Super Mario's, close to the Fort Dix base. Because he made pizza deliveries there, he allegedly boasted he knew the place like the back of his hand. That's why, officials said, the men decided on Fort Dix for their attack.

Fort Dix is a training base for U.S. soldiers, particularly reservists. It also houses an FBI training facility. In 1999, it housed some 4,000 ethnic Albanian refugees during NATO's bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, though it is unclear whether that was part of the men's motivation for attacking it. The base typically supports about 15,000 people, including 3,000 soldiers.

Prosecutors said the group often watched terror training videos together. They were found with videos featuring Osama bin Laden and a tape containing the last will and testament of some of the Sept. 11 hijackers, according to officials. They allegedly trained by playing paintball in the woods of New Jersey. They also took target practice at a firing range in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains, where they had rented a house, authorities said. One of the men was allegedly a sniper from Kosovo.

"We believe they are their own cell," said Christie. "They are inspired by international terror organizations. I believe they saw themselves as part of that."

The men are being held without bail ahead of another court appearance on Friday.

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