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Fort Dix defense: Men were 'all talk'

Albanians have an expression that defense attorney Rocco Cipparone said perfectly describes the five men accused of plotting to attack Fort Dix.

Albanians have an expression that defense attorney Rocco Cipparone said perfectly describes the five men accused of plotting to attack Fort Dix.

"A barking dog doesn't bite," he said. "All talk, no action."

Cipparone, who represents defendant Mohamad Shnewer, recalled that phrase yesterday while cross-examining FBI informant Besnik Bakalli, an Albanian illegal immigrant.

Bakalli befriended defendants Dritan, Eljvir and Shain Duka, who are ethnic Albanians, at the behest of the FBI. He secretly recorded months of conversations with them.

Their discussions often were dominated by talk of radical Islam, guns, and whether the men should take part in armed jihad, overseas or in the United States.

Cipparone and the other defense attorneys said that talking was all their clients ever did. Prosecutors said the men formulated a plan to kill soldiers at Fort Dix and trained for their mission by shooting on a firing range and playing paintball.

In often-combative exchanges with Bakalli, Cipparone pointed out segments of the recordings where the Duka brothers demurred or said they didn't have the guts to go on jihad.

While discussing suicide bombings, Dritan Duka once said, "I wouldn't do it. I will never do it."

On one recording, Eljvir Duka said Islam could not be spread by violence.

"It's not by the sword only," he said. "You can't force them to come to Islam."

But Bakalli accused Cipparone of cherry-picking the transcripts without providing the context. He repeatedly tried to offer longer answers, only to have Cipparone cut him off.

"I guess you don't want me to explain," he said.

"I want you to answer my question," Cipparone shot back.

At one point, after reviewing an instance when Shain Duka said he didn't have the fortitude for jihad, Bakalli replied, "He didn't mean it."

Cipparone also said Bakalli goaded the Duka brothers by "playing on the Albanian sense of bravado and manhood."

Only once in the months when Bakalli was wearing a body wire did Fort Dix enter the discussions. That was when Bakalli asked why American military bases were not as prominent as the bases he had seen in Europe.

Eljvir "Elvis" Duka mentioned Dix but did not talk about attacking the base.

"Elvis didn't say, 'You know the jihad we've been talking about - I just mentioned Fort Dix - Mohamad's got a map in his closet,' " Cipparone said.

"No," Bakalli said.

When Mohamad Shnewer was arrested, investigators found a map of the base in his closet.

The family of the fifth defendant, Serdar Tatar, owned a pizzeria outside the gates of the base. Prosecutors said the men planned to use a pizza-delivery pass to get on the base and open fire.

All five men are foreign-born Muslims raised in South Jersey. They could get life in prison if convicted.

Defense attorney Michael Huff, who represents Dritan Duka, began his questioning yesterday by probing Bakalli's story of shooting a man in Albania in a "blood feud."

Bakalli said this week that the man had been threatening his sister and that in Albania families must settle disputes violently and among themselves.

The man Bakalli shot survived, and Bakalli was convicted in absentia of firing a gun without the proper permits. Bakalli was not charged with shooting the man.

"So, in Albania are you allowed to shoot someone as long as you have the [gun permits]?" Huff asked.

"Like I said . . . Albania is not the United States," Bakalli answered. "We have our own traditions."

"It's a tradition to shoot somebody?" Huff asked.

"It's a tradition to handle your own problems," Bakalli said.