Agron Abdullahu never would have participated in a plot to kill American soldiers, his lawyer said, because of his gratitude to the United States for saving his family from the war in Kosovo, its homeland.
Abdullahu, 24, was charged last week with aiding and abetting three fellow ethnic Albanians in acquiring firearms in an alleged plan to attack soldiers at Fort Dix.
He and five others have been held since their May 7 arrests, which made international news.
Abdullahu's public defender, in papers filed Monday in federal court in Camden, argued that his client should be allowed bail because, among other reasons, he was the only defendant not charged with plotting to kill soldiers. A judge will consider the request tomorrow.
Abdullahu also told his lawyer, Lisa Evans Lewis, that his family was "eternally grateful to the United States."
"He loves his life in America and credits the American government with saving his family from death and separation," she wrote.
Lewis also said Abdullahu had not been a sniper in Kosovo as his codefendants believed, according to the criminal complaint.
In her papers, Lewis said Abdullahu was 16 when his family walked more than 30 miles from Kosovo to what is now Macedonia to escape the ethnic-cleansing campaign of then-Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic.
"Mr. Abdullahu asserts that at no time was he a sniper in Kosovo or anywhere else," she wrote. "Mr. Abdullahu was a child when the conflict in the region he is from began."
Abdullahu, the oldest of Sejdulla and Vaxhide Abdullahu's four children, was born in Gilan, Kosovo, a region with long-standing tensions between the ethnic Albanians and the minority Serbian population.
In 1998, Milosevic began a crackdown against the Albanians, leading to 10,000 deaths and causing one million people to flee, according to Lewis' brief. The war in Kosovo ended only after NATO intervention.
By then, Abdullahu had fled with his parents, sibling and grandmother. They spent five weeks in a United Nations refugee camp before winning a lottery to come to the United States, which they entered through Fort Dix.
Catholic Charities then helped the family find free housing and furnishings and arranged jobs at a ShopRite.
The Inquirer interviewed Abdullahu and his father at the time. Sejdulla Abdullahu talked about getting his driver's license, after failing once because he couldn't parallel park.
Agron Abdullahu attended Williamstown High School for one year before dropping out. He and his parents all got jobs at a ShopRite courtesy of George Zallie, who owns six stores in South Jersey.
Zallie, who is of Albanian descent, also paid for an English tutor for the family.
"All I wanted to do was help them," he told The Inquirer in 1999. "I just felt bad for them."
Karen Meleta, a spokeswoman for Wakefern, parent of the ShopRite cooperative, said Zallie sponsored three families at the time.
She said that Zallie "couldn't shed any more light" on Abdullahu, and that he didn't want to comment further.
Agron Abdullahu continued working at ShopRite - finding his "niche as a bread baker," his lawyer wrote - until his arrest.
He and his mother owned the family home, which Lewis said was their proudest achievement. Lewis said the family would put up the $150,000 house for Abdullahu's bail.
Lewis described Abdullahu as spending his free time refurbishing cars and a boat. She also said he was a "gun enthusiast" who legally obtained a gun permit after Monroe Township issued him a firearms identification card.
Lewis wrote that the Abdullahus have "taken full advantage of their new life in America."
Or, in the words of Agron Abdullahu in 1999, living in the United States is "like I am reborn here a second time."