Defense attorneys for two of the five men accused of plotting an armed assault on Fort Dix ridiculed a government court filing alleging that one or more of the defendants may be "spreading jihadist recruitment videos" at the Federal Detention Center.
Prosecutors said a prison guard found a DVD hidden inside a book in the prison library last month that showed Osama bin Laden and other Islamic extremists giving speeches.
The feds made the claim in papers filed Tuesday night in federal district court in Camden. They said the incident raised "grave security concerns" about the Fort Dix defendants and pointed against their being granted bail at a hearing on Dec. 20.
Defense attorneys said government lawyers misrepresented the incident and noted they had repeatedly warned their clients to be wary of other inmates who might try to exploit them.
The defendants - all foreign-born Muslims in their 20s - have been confined in a special housing unit at the FDC, at 7th and Arch streets, since they were arrested in May.
U.S. District Judge Robert B. Kugler scheduled the hearing for next week after numerous complaints by the Fort Dix defendants that they've been mistreated and been denied access to evidence against them.
Prosecutors said defendant Dritan Duka began yelling when a prison guard found the DVD and told the guard the DVD belonged to him.
The defendants, all of whom have pleaded not guilty and are scheduled to stand trial in March, had been using the library to view the DVD along with other evidence in the case.
The DVD is the same one prosecutors say a second defendant, Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer, gave to a government informant last year when the men were under investigation.
According to prosecutors, Duka said that another inmate identified only as "Inmate-1" had been looking at the video. That inmate said he had been given the DVD by Shnewer, a claim Shnewer's lawyer, Rocco Cipparone Jr., denied yesterday.
Defense attorneys said prison officials were spinning their own version of the DVD incident to prosecutors in order to cover their backsides.
"What else are they going to say?" asked Cipparone. "If they say another inmate was allowed to get access to this evidence, it doesn't bode well for the FDC protecting these defendants."
According to Huff, Duka saw the unidentifed inmate take the DVD. Huff said a guard then asked the unidentified inmate if he had taken the DVD and the inmate denied it.
"The reality is this [DVD] was evidence my client was allowed to have, and it was hidden in a law book by another inmate who shouldn't have had it," Huff said.
Cipparone said the feds' version defied common sense.
He said if the defendants were really trying to recruit jihadists inside the FDC, they wouldn't do so with a DVD because most inmates don't have access to computers.
Huff and Cipparone speculated that the inmate had told prison guards that he had gotten the DVD from Shnewer to curry favor with prosecutors.
"This has been our fear all along," Huff said, "that these other inmates are looking at our clients as targets of opportunity."
Cipparone said it's not uncommon for other inmates to try to glean information about a high-profile case for their advantage.
"They educate themselves about the facts of the case and then fabricate cooperation to get themselves some remuneration in their own cases," he said.
"You look at a video and strike up a conversation and the next thing you know he's telling prosecutors the guy gave me a jailhouse confession." *