Details emerge in terror sting
An FBI affidavit tells how agents set up alleged plotters of an attack on Fort Dix. Many questions remain, however.
Two of the terror suspects arrested at an apartment complex in Cherry Hill thought they were meeting with a "gun dealer" who was going to sell them assault rifles they hoped to use in launching an attack on Fort Dix.
Instead, the FBI was waiting.
The sting operation at the Hampshire Houses, a multi-unit complex off Cooper Landing Road, was part of a coordinated effort by federal and state authorities, who scooped up six suspects at four different locations on Monday night.
The arrests capped a 16-month undercover operation that was partially detailed in an FBI affidavit.
But there remain many questions in the high-profile case - a case built around paid informants, secretly recorded conversations, an unsung hero, and mysterious operatives whose roles remain uncertain.
One may be "Mahmood," the name that appears next to the buzzer for apartment 6B in Building A of the Hampshire Houses.
That apparently was where the brothers Dritan and Shain Duka were headed Monday night when they were arrested.
Mahmood doesn't live there anymore.
He, his wife and their two children moved out about a month ago, according to property manager Larry Berretta, who said he was just as surprised as several tenants when they saw the arrests going down.
"I've not spoken with anybody" in law enforcement, Berretta said during a brief interview in his office yesterday.
"Everything was hush-hush. There was never any suspicion of terrorism."
In fact, the allegations that four of six reputed "radical Islamists" were living in Cherry Hill while they plotted an assault on Fort Dix and several other possible targets has heightened national and international interest in the probe.
It is a quintessential story for the 21st century - terrorism comes to suburbia.
Indeed, top law enforcement officials, including U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Christopher J. Christie, pointed out in announcing the arrests that Cherry Hill is one of the Philadelphia region's most diverse communities.
It is a middle-class haven for ethnic groups and immigrants alike, most of them chasing the American dream.
Those two issues - diversity and Americana - are on display along Cooper Landing Road. Within two blocks of the Hampshire Houses is the Cherry Hill Seventh Day Adventist Church, St. Michael's Ukrainian Catholic Church, the Congregation Sons of Israel, and the Cherry Hill National Little League field.
Dritan and Shain Duka could have driven past those locations on their way to allegedly complete a deal for AK-47 and M-16 assault rifles.
The FBI provided the weapons for what authorities describe as a "controlled purchase." The rifles were inoperable.
The deal was set up by one of two confidential witnesses - paid FBI informants - who had infiltrated the group and recorded dozens of conversations.
The informant in turn told the Dukas and Mohamad Shnewer, another suspect in the case, that he had a contact in Baltimore who could supply the weapons they sought.
On March 28, according to the FBI affidavit, the informant was given a list by Dritan Duka that included assault rifles, machine guns and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.
In subsequent recorded conversations, the deal was discussed in more detail and the suspects settled on an initial purchase of the assault rifles.
Shnewer said he was happy with the cost - $500 per weapon. It was, he told the informant during a March 30 meeting, "very good price."
The deal was finalized during several meetings in April that were also recorded. The final meeting was set for Monday night at Mahmood's apartment.
Whether the suspects ever met Mahmood and what, if any role, he played in the sting could not be determined yesterday.
He remains one of several mystery players in a case that has yet to fully unfold.
Berretta, the apartment manager, described the former occupant of 6B as a "well spoken" man in his 40s of apparent Arabic descent. He said his wife was an American and that they had "two beautiful children."
"I really don't want to say any more because he could be in danger," Berretta said, declining to provide the former tenant's full name or any forwarding address.
"He left about a month ago, but asked me to keep the apartment open. He said he had a relative who was interested."
Berretta said there were still some furnishings in the apartment - a couch and a bed - but the family had not been back since they left.
He said Mahmood had kept a key to show his relative the place.
Berretta now wonders whether that was merely a ruse that allowed Mahmood to maintain access to the apartment while the investigation unfolded.
"I have no idea," Berretta said yesterday.
"But today we've changed all the locks and tomorrow the apartment goes back on the market."