Before an overflow crowd at the U.S. courthouse in Camden today, a magistrate judge ordered six men charged with plotting to kill Fort Dix soldiers held without bail. Afterward, their lawyers said they would plead not guilty.
The six men, whose only visitors since their arrest Monday have been lawyers, searched for familiar faces as they shuffled into the courtroom, wearing green jumpsuits, pink slippers and leg irons.
About 30 friends and family waved. Most of the defendants smiled and waved back. Throughout the hour-long proceeding, women wearing hajibs cried.
Assistant U.S. Attorney R. Stephan Stigall called the evidence in the case "very strong."
In particular, the prosecutor described Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer, a 22-year-old Philadelphia cabbie, as a leader. Agents searching his home Monday found a map of the base, said Stigall.
Stigall said Shnewer "tried to recruit the others" and performed surveillance of the Fort Monmouth military base by himself. On recorded conversations, the prosecutor said, Shnewer "stated his intent to kill" U.S. soldiers.
Outside of court, defense lawyers said that they have not yet seen most of the prosecution evidence in the case, and urged the public not to jump to conclusions.
"We will see about these confidential informants, and see if our guys were led astray," said Troy Archie, who represents Eljvir Duka, 23, of Cherry Hill.
Shnewer's lawyer, Rocco Cipparone, was the only one who tried to obtain bail today. He offered $600,000 worth of South Jersey property owned by family and friends as collateral.
But U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel Schneider ordered Shnewer held until trial, citing a danger to the community and a risk that he might flee.
Cipparone later told reporters that Shnewer is "very somber."
"He's never been locked up before and obviously he's in a somewhat somber mood," the lawyer said. "His family is going through a full range of emotions."
The other defendants did not contest their detention - at least for the time being. Several lawyers said the families were trying to arrange for collateral.
Authorities said they first learned about the men in January 2006, when a clerk at a Circuit City store in Mount Laurel called local police, saying he had seen a "disturbing" video that one of them had tried to have duplicated. The video allegedly showed men carrying automatic weapons and shouting jihadist slogans.
The South Joint Terrorism Task Force, led by the FBI office in Cherry Hill, conducted a 16-month investigation, trailing the suspects, sometimes 24 hours a day. They used a paid informant to infiltrate the group and he recorded dozens of incriminating conversations with the men, the FBI said. Authorities say the men were preparing to buy automatic weapons to use in an attack when they were arrested.
Defense lawyers said today that they planned, as they do in similar cases, to review the conduct and character of the informant.
"There's some concerns there, as there always are," said Michael Reilly, who represents Shain Duka, 26. A third Duka brother, Dritan Duka, 28, is also charged.
Of the five men charged with conspiring to kill uniformed military personnel, three are ethnic Albanians from the former Yugoslavia. One is from Jordan; the other from Turkey.
A lawyer for Serdar Tatar, 23, told a tangle of reporters afterward that he is worried about the media exposure in the case.
"Obviously, there are major concerns about a fair trial," lawyer Richard Sporaco said.
Tatar, who was authorized to deliver pizzas at Fort Dix, is alleged to have provided the map to Shnewer.
Since the arrests were made public Tuesday, Tatar's father, Muslim Tatar, who owns the pizzeria near Fort Dix, has been the victim of a racial attack, the lawyer said.
"His door was kicked and someone shouted a racial slur," said Sporaco. "His wife is back in Turkey, in the hospital. She had a nervous breakdown."
As family members and friends entered the courthouse today, they were hounded by photographers, and taunted by an unidentified man who screamed at them to plead guilty.
If convicted, the Duka brothers, Shnewer and Tatar face about eight years imprisonment, under federal sentencing guidelines.
A sixth man, Agron Abdullahu, 24, is charged with helping illegal immigrants obtain weapons. He faces less time, and the judge scheduled a second bail hearing for him for Thursday.