Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Ordinary lives, radical words

They were unremarkable members of a new generation of struggling immigrants - a baker, a cabdriver, three roofers and a store clerk who once delivered pizzas to Fort Dix.

They were unremarkable members of a new generation of struggling immigrants - a baker, a cabdriver, three roofers and a store clerk who once delivered pizzas to Fort Dix.

Yesterday, the FBI alleged that these six young men were so much more: Islamic radicals who aspired to make a name for themselves by killing U.S. soldiers in New Jersey.

"These folks found each other because they have a common belief," said Jody Weis, the senior FBI agent in Philadelphia. "Maybe something was missing in their lives. Maybe this gave them a cause. Often times, people like this are lost."

Five of the South Jersey Six revealed their true selves in videotapes they shot of themselves training for the jihad in the Poconos - and during secret recordings made by an informant, the FBI said.

"My intent is to a hit a heavy concentration of soldiers," said the alleged mastermind, Philadelphia cabdriver Mohamad Shnewer of Cherry Hill.

"It doesn't matter to me whether I get locked up, arrested," said Serdar Tatar, the 7-Eleven clerk who worked near Temple University and whose wife is expecting twins.

The three at the heart of it, the Duka brothers - Dritan, Eljvir and Shain - roofers who sported the same crew-cuts and full, bushy beards: They are ethnic Albanians whose parents smuggled them into the United States as children in 1984.

"We can do a lot of damage with seven people," the eldest, Dritan Duka, allegedly said on an FBI tape.

"We are all crazy," said Shain Duka.

The youngest brother, Eljvir, calls himself "Elvis." As he shuffled into federal court yesterday in Camden, legs in irons, he puffed his chest, smiled, and lifted a large forearm toward weeping relatives in the gallery.

The sixth man, Agron Abdullahu, wasn't caught on tape, but the FBI says he tried to sell guns to the others. A former sniper in Kosovo, Abdullahu baked dough for a Shop-Rite on the Black Horse Pike in Gloucester County.

Federal officials say the men were serious about the attack - though officials stressed repeatedly that the men were not affiliated with al-Qaeda, or even "al-Qaeda-types." This group did not represent a "cell," but an independent gang, they said.

Federal officials released little public information about the six men arrested Monday night. What follows is gleaned from interviews with neighbors, public records and other law-enforcement officials.

The alleged ringleader

Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer is a 22-year-old taxi driver who was born in Jordan and is a naturalized citizen.

Danielle Lee, a dispatcher for All City Taxi in Philadelphia, said she was shocked by Shnewer's arrest.

"He's such a nice man," she said. "We never had any complaints. He always kept to himself. No problems."

Neighbors in Cherry Hill say Shnewer had roosters that escaped and broken-down vehicles parked on the street.

The Duka brothers

The roofers lived in the same home on Mimosa Drive, in a peaceful Cherry Hill neighborhood with tidy, well-kept Colonial, split-level and bi-level houses.

The home, in the 200 block, stands out from the others, marked by its unusual Texas yuccas, hairy-barked desert trees. The family recently installed a white, Mediterranean-style brick facade and ornate sculpted porch railings.

Eljvir Duka is 23. Shain Duka is 26. Dritan Duka is 28. They are all illegal immigrants, according to federal immigration officials.

Shain Duka is the only brother to ever get a driver's license, thought it expired in 2003. But that hasn't stopped him or his brothers from driving, records show.

Each has tallied at least 19 points for moving violations.

Neighbors said the Duka family appeared friendly, sharing backyard-grown tomatoes and cucumbers.

Michael Levine, 38, who lives two doors away, said he was "blown away" at the news of the arrests.

"They seemed like normal people - you'd have no idea," he said. "It's unsettling. You don't know who your neighbors are."

According to Levine, there often were many people in the house, as many as 14 at a time, who came and went at different times. He thought nothing of it, believing that was their custom to have families live together.

"Until I know all the facts, I don't believe this. But then, the FBI doesn't kick in doors for nothing," he said.

The pizza connection

Serdar Tatar, 23, was born in Turkey, and is a legal resident of the United States. He is the man who allegedly obtained a map of Fort Dix from his family's pizzeria, Super Mario's.

Tatar's driver's license has been suspended many times, and he has 24 active points, records show. Recently, he began work as a clerk for the 7-Eleven in Philadelphia on Cecil B. Moore Avenue next to Temple University.

A 7-Eleven spokesman said Tatar "came in and did his job like all the employees."

"This was a person who got along with his coworkers," he said. "He was friendly toward the customers."

Tatar lived with wife, Anna, in an apartment building in the 2100 block of Tremont Street in the Bustleton section of Philadelphia.

A neighbor, Stacie Gandlina, said she witnessed the FBI's arrival Monday night about 10 p.m.

Agents escorted her to her apartment across the hall from the Tatars. When they could not obtain a key to the flat they borrowed a hammer from Gandlina, which they used - along with their feet - to break open the door.

Later outside, Gandlina saw Anna sitting in her father's car, weeping.

Gandlina said that Anna, an ethnic Turk from Russia, had been a home aide for her sister after she suffered a stroke and that she considered Anna Tatar like family.

"What happened?" she said she asked the woman's father. "He said, 'My son-in-law arrested.' "

"I have a very good opinion of this family, very good opinion," she said. "I cannot believe, I cannot believe that something can happen to them."

The gun broker

Agron Abdullahu, 24, lived in Buena Vista Township, Atlantic County, and worked for Shop-Rite on the Black Horse Pike in Monroe Township, Gloucester County.

A former sniper in Kosovo who trained with the Egyptian military, Abdullahu is a legal U.S. resident.

At Abdullahu's house, family members were busy boarding up their windows and front door with plywood, apparently for privacy. "Go away," came a voice from behind the door when a reporter knocked. "There's no side to tell." The hammering and power sawing resumed.