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Fort Dix case ready for the jury

The defense called the case against the Fort Dix defendants a big mistake, one that came to court only because of zealous investigators and sleazy FBI informants.

The defense called the case against the Fort Dix defendants a big mistake, one that came to court only because of zealous investigators and sleazy FBI informants.

The prosecution said that the defendants were linked by their common belief in radical Islam and a desire to kill American soldiers, and that investigators stepped in before their plot could come to fruition.

With those final sentiments, one of the country's premier trials of so-called domestic terrorism came to its end yesterday.

After eight weeks of testimony and two days of closing arguments, the anonymously chosen jurors will begin their deliberations this morning. They will be sequestered until they make a decision.

"The government was mistaken about these men's intentions," defense attorney Michael Huff told jurors yesterday. "You have the opportunity to correct that mistake."

In his rebuttal, Deputy U.S. Attorney William Fitzpatrick said the defendants' words and actions "cry out for guilty verdicts."

Defendant Mohamad Shnewer, for instance, drove to several military bases with an FBI informant, who was recording their conversation. Prosecutors called their trips "surveillance."

"All he's talking about is picking targets, killing people," he said. "And the defense counsel wants you to believe he doesn't mean it; he's a flake."

The defense did paint Shnewer, the lead defendant, as an overweight outsider and a screw-up, the butt of his friends' jokes.

Mike Riley, the attorney for defendant Shain Duka, said the case was built on "the mouth of Mohamad Shnewer and the computer of Mohamad Shnewer."

Jihadist videos

In addition to his many inflammatory statements about killing soldiers, Shnewer downloaded more than 100 jihadist videos to his laptop, including some created by al-Sahab, the media wing of al-Qaeda.

It was those videos, and similar ones found on the hard drive of defendant Eljvir Duka, that prosecutors said inspired the five men, all foreign-born Muslims raised in South Jersey, to plot an attack on Fort Dix.

The defense countered that Shnewer was prodded into action only after continual badgering from Mahmoud Omar, an FBI informant with a record of bank fraud. Omar was paid nearly $240,000 for his cooperation.

Huff also said a second FBI informant, Besnik Bakalli, took a similar tactic with the three Duka brothers - defendants Dritan, Eljvir and Shain Duka. He said Bakalli challenged their common Albanian sense of manhood and played on their anger at the treatment of Muslims around the world.

"You're cowards, you're letting people die, your families overseas, and you don't do anything," Huff said, describing Bakalli's approach.

Fitzpatrick countered that the defense arguments amounted to an attempt to deflect responsibility.

"I said it, but I didn't mean it. If I did mean it, then somebody made me say it," he said. "After hours and hours of arguments, everything boils down to that."

Trips to Poconos

The Duka brothers are accused of "training" for their mission on annual trips to the Poconos, where they would shoot guns at a firing range and talk about jihad.

The defense said the trips also included horseback riding, watching movies and playing video games - the stuff of young men on vacation.

"There was pillow fighting," Huff said. "I'm sure Osama bin Laden is sitting in a cave as we speak . . . pillow fighting."

Dritan and Shain Duka were arrested on May 7, 2007, while attempting to buy seven rifles from Omar. The defense argued that they intended only to use those guns at the firing range.

Fitzpatrick later held up two of the guns, an AK-47 and an M-16, for jurors to inspect and called them "weapons of war."

"Weapons in a war, as they said it, between the United States and true Muslims," he said. "A war they said time and again they needed to train for."

The final defendant in the case, Serdar Tatar, was accused of taking a map of Fort Dix from his family's pizzeria, which delivered to the base, and giving it to Omar.

But Tatar, who applied to become a police officer at several departments, also told a Philadelphia police sergeant about Omar asking for the map. He later spoke to the FBI, telling agents that he tried to record one of his conversations with Omar on his cell phone.

"Maybe he was trying to do to Omar what Omar was trying to do to him - get inside his mind," said Tatar's attorney, Richard Sparaco. "This guy wanted to be a cop. This is his opportunity."

Sparaco said Tatar delayed giving Omar the map for weeks, while asking him about his intentions and trying to convince him that attacking the base would be a "big problem for all Muslims in this country."

Tatar gave Omar the map before speaking to the FBI, and three times denied having done so in his interview with the agents. Fitzpatrick said Tatar approached the police sergeant in an effort to find out if Omar was an informant.

In the hundreds of hours of secretly recorded conversations, the defendants made countless, chilling statements about jihad and killing Americans.

But, on numerous occasions, they also gave sober evaluations about their unwillingness to harm anyone and the nature of their religion.

Attorney Troy Archie ended his argument by playing a clip of his client, Eljvir Duka, holding forth on the meaning of jihad as the routine struggles of life.

"This is our big jihad," Duka said. "To be good believers, to try to be good people."

Fitzpatrick acknowledged those statements, but said they were almost always followed by more radical talk - even from Shain Duka, who is heard the least on the recordings.

"For every time he says, 'We're not ready, it's all just talk' he follows it up with a strong declarative statement, 'When the time comes, I'm ready,' " Fitzpatrick said.