Six men described by New Jersey's top law enforcement official as "the model for post-Sept.-11-era terrorism" were ordered held without bail yesterday after being arrested for allegedly plotting to attack the Army base at Fort Dix.
Authorities said the suspects had spent nearly 16 months hatching the plot, which included firearms training in the Poconos, reconnaissance trips to the base, and arrangements to buy weapons, including assault rifles and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.
The suspects also considered attacks on other facilities, including the Naval Air Station at Lakehurst, the Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, and the Coast Guard building on Delaware Avenue in Philadelphia, according to court documents. One allegedly lamented a missed opportunity to attack military personnel at the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia last fall.
"My intent is to hit a heavy concentration of soldiers" at Fort Dix, one suspect allegedly told a cooperating witness. "This is exactly what we are looking for. You hit four, five or six humvees and light the whole place [up] and retreat completely without any losses."
Authorities said that bravado, coupled with a desire to videotape themselves preparing for the attack, had led to the suspects' undoing.
A videotape of a training session, in fact, got the FBI on the case.
That and an alert store clerk in Mount Laurel, who was described yesterday as the "unsung" - and thus far unidentified - hero of the investigation.
The FBI began tracking the group after the clerk notified Mount Laurel police about a videotape that he was asked to copy onto a DVD, authorities said. The tape, recorded Jan. 3, 2006, depicted a group of young men shooting assault weapons on a firing range while calling for "jihad" and shouting in Arabic "Allahu Akbar" ("God is great").
Less than two months after being notified of that tape, the FBI had managed to insinuate an informant into the group. That informant and a second cooperating witness taped dozens of conversations with the conspirators, attended a firearms training session, and learned details of the planned attack on Fort Dix, authorities said.
Christopher J. Christie, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, said the suspects, who range in age from 22 to 28 and came to the United States from Jordan, Turkey and the former Yugoslavia, were not part of any international terrorist organization.
But Christie said they clearly had been "inspired" by organizations, such as al-Qaeda, that have targeted the United States.
"Terrorist attacks are not always on a grand scale," Christie said during a news conference on the steps of the federal courthouse in Camden after the six were formally charged.
He described the group as serious, capable of carrying out the plot and the "model" for a new type of terrorism. "It could have been a disaster," he said.
"Today we dodged a bullet," added Jody Weis, special agent in charge of the FBI's Philadelphia office. "They were forming a platoon to take out an army."
The six were arrested in coordinated raids Monday night and taken to federal court in Camden yesterday for initial hearings before U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel Schneider.
Four, including three brothers, lived in Cherry Hill. Another lived in Buena Vista Township in Atlantic County, and the sixth lived in an apartment in the Bustleton section of Philadelphia.
All six are to appear Friday at detention hearings before Schneider.
Two of the suspects, brothers Dritan Duka, 28, and Shain Duka, 26, were arrested after arriving home in Cherry Hill, where they allegedly had arranged to buy AK-47 and M-16 rifles. One of the FBI informants had set up the deal.
A third brother, Eljvir Duka, 23, was arrested at the family home on Mimosa Drive in Cherry Hill. Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer, 22, was arrested at his home in the 1000 block of Tampa Avenue in Cherry Hill.
The raids by federal authorities and state police also netted Agron Abdullahu, 24, in Buena Vista Township, and Serdar Tatar, 23, who lives in an apartment in the 2100 block of Tremont Street in Philadelphia.
The Duka brothers, Shnewer and Tatar were charged with conspiring to kill uniformed military personnel. The brothers were also charged with possession of a firearm by an illegal immigrant. All three were in the country illegally, authorities said.
Abdullahu was charged with aiding and abetting the Duka brothers in the weapons-possession offense.
The Dukas and Abdullahu were described as ethnic Albanians from the former Yugoslavia. Abdullahu had legal resident status. Shnewer is a U.S. citizen born in Jordan. Tatar, born in Turkey, is also a legal resident.
Immigration Customs Enforcement agents also arrested the Dukas' father on immigration charges. His name was not released.
Authorities said Tatar, a clerk at a 7-Eleven near Temple University on North Broad Street, had obtained a map of Fort Dix. Tatar boasted that he knew the base well because his family owned a pizzeria just outside the complex, and that he had regularly made deliveries there.
Details about the investigation were included in a 27-page affidavit submitted to the court yesterday by FBI agent John J. Ryan, one of the lead investigators. The affidavit included descriptions of the plot, conversations recorded by the FBI's cooperating witnesses, and references to other plans that authorities said the suspects had considered and then discarded.
According to authorities, the conspirators frequently discussed jihad - a Muslim holy war - and shared videotapes from the Internet that included propaganda from radical groups.
One of the videos, according to the affidavit, "contained images of Osama bin Laden and other Islamic extremists making various speeches in which the speakers call the viewer to join the jihadist movement."
In one taped conversation, Shnewer told one of the FBI informants that he and the others had saved money to buy weapons, and that "they were not afraid to die." He said the goal was to kill at least 100 Fort Dix soldiers by using rocket-propelled grenades while attacking the base.
In another recorded conversation, Eljvir Duka told one of the cooperating witnesses that the plotters needed to receive a "fatwa" before they could carry out the attack on Fort Dix.
A fatwa is a ruling issued by an Islamic scholar granting "permission" to commit an act that might otherwise be illegal under Islamic law, according to the affidavit.
During another meeting, Tatar mentioned a location on the base that they could target because it would cause a power outage and allowed for easier access to launch the attack. At another point he raised questions about the cooperating witness, suggesting that he might be a federal agent.
But he said that did not bother him, according to the affidavit. "I'm gonna do it whether you are or not" FBI, he said in a taped conversation. "Know why? . . . It doesn't matter to me whether I get locked up, arrested, or get taken away. . . . Or I die - doesn't matter. I'm doing it in the name of Allah."
The FBI informants also traveled with the group to Gouldsboro, in the Poconos, where the Dukas had rented a home for a week in early February. There they arranged to take target practice at a firearms range on state game land.
The FBI had set up audio and video surveillance and recorded shooting sessions in which the conspirators practiced with weapons including an SKS semiautomatic rifle, a Beretta Storm semiautomatic rifle, a Mossberg 12-gauge pump shotgun, and a 9mm Beretta handgun.
It was a video of an earlier practice session at the shooting range that launched the investigation.
Authorities said the group also had participated in paint-ball shooting practice and played video games in which terrorist-style attacks were carried out.
Christie described one video session as "despicable." The men watched one video game in which U.S. military vehicles were attacked and the image of a Marine had his arm blown off.
"The room burst out in laughter," Christie said of the session, which one of the informants secretly recorded.