A September trial date for the five remaining defendants in the Fort Dix terrorist case remains likely after the men appeared in federal court today for a status conference.
District Judge Robert Kugler had been pushing for a speedy trial ever since the men were arrested in May 2007.
He initially said he hoped to resolve the case in 2007, but several issues forced him to push back his ambitious time frame.
"Things are good?" Kugler asked today. "We're still on track for Sept. 29?"
The attorneys agreed that they would be prepared to begin jury selection on that day.
Kugler said as many as 1,500 summonses could be mailed out this summer to potential jurors. He said he hoped to get 500 potential jurors to the courthouse, where they would be whittled down to about 80 through a lengthy questionnaire.
The judge said the questions would not be made public until after the jury is seated, but the two sides did discuss one of the questions in court today.
Potential jurors would be asked what words they use in private "to describe people who practice the Islamic faith."
All five defendants are foreign-born Muslims. They have been accused of plotting an armed, paramilitary attack on Fort Dix inspired by al-Qaeda propaganda.
The men - Mohamed Shnewer, a U.S. citizen born in Jordan; Serdar Tatar, a legal U.S. resident born in Turkey; and Cherry Hill brothers Shain, Eljvir and Dritan Duka, all illegal immigrants from the former Yugoslavia - have pleaded not guilty.
A sixth man, Agron Abdullahu, was sentenced in March to 20 months in prison for allowing the Duka brothers to fire his guns during trips to the Pocono Mountains.
Abdullahu, a refugee from Kosovo whose family settled in Atlantic County, has been in custody since his 2007 arrest and could be released from prison by the end of the year.
Today's hearing came on the same day that accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed appeared for the first time before a military tribunal.
Unlike the detainees in Guantanamo Bay, who were captured abroad and are being prosecuted in the military justice system, the Fort Dix defendants were investigated on U.S. soil by the civilian U.S. Justice Department, led by the FBI, and are being prosecuted in federal court.
Kugler has ordered all pretrial motions to be filed later this month with the hopes of settling those issues by the end of summer.
Defense attorneys are expected to ask for evidence to be excluded from the trial, and they could ask that the case be moved to another venue because of the intense publicity.
Kugler also jokingly asked the attorneys if they would be well-rested for trial and if they planned to take vacations this summer.
That prompted Eljvir Duka to speak up from the jury box, where the defendants were seated.
"Judge, can you look at us and ask if we can go on vacation?" he said, smiling broadly. "At least to the rec yard."