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Trial Begins For Men Accused In Fort Dix 'Pizza Plot'
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Trial Begins For Men Accused In Fort Dix 'Pizza Plot'



It's Morning Edition from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep. Five men go on trial today in New Jersey. Prosecutors say they were behind a terrorist plot to infiltrate the Fort Dix army base, to pose as pizza deliverymen and then open fire on unsuspecting soldiers. Defense lawyers say the talk was all bluster and that an FBI informant goaded the men. Now a jury decides as NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: When the FBI made the arrest, Special Agent J.P. Weiss said that homegrown terrorists pose a real and deadly threat.

Mr. J.P. WEISS (Special Agent, FBI): 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: A clerk at the local Circuit City alerted police. He'd seen a video in which 10 young men were firing assault rifles at a shooting range. They were calling for jihad and praising Allah in Arabic. Prosecutors will portray this as a terrorist training video. The defense says it is no such thing.

Mr. ROCCO CIPPARONE (Defense Lawyer): This talk about a smoking-gun video I think will be refuted when people actually see the video.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Rocco Cipparone is representing defendant Mohamed Shnewer, one of the six men arrested.

Mr. CIPPARONE: Obviously people at a shooting range fire guns. These are a number of young men who're essentially clowning around, having a good time, and I think it is a far cry from a terrorist training video.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Soon after the video was discovered, the FBI had an informant infiltrate the group. Cipparone says the informant egged the group on and tricked them into saying things they really didn't mean.

Mr. CIPPARONE: I think when they're looked at in context, it will be clear that this is a lot of talk and a lot of prodding by the informant and certainly talk by the defendants, but nothing that really was a valid plot.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Terrorism cases of this kind have taken on a familiar pattern. The FBI makes arrests, usually of young men they say are holy warriors. Defense attorneys respond that their clients are all fiery talk and no action. Conviction rates have been mixed. Cipparone says the publicity makes it tough to seat juries. New Jersey sent out more than 1,000 summonses to find 12 jurors for this trial.

Mr. CIPPARONE: I don't think it will be easy to seat an impartial jury. We're all going to try our best but it's a difficult task.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Before they were arrested, the defendants led ordinary middle-class lives, as convenient store clerks, roofers, cab drivers and pizza deliverymen. One, Serdar Tatar, was born in Turkey. His nickname is Tony, partly because his family operated a pizza parlor near Fort Dix. Yugoslav Eljvir Duka's friends called him Elvis. His two brothers, Dristan and Shain, are also defendants. FBI agent Weiss said the group was in the final stages of planning.

Mr. WEISS: They 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. One of the men, Agron Abdullahu, has already pleaded guilty to weapons charges and is serving 20 months in prison. Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News, New York.

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