His father says Serdar Tatar is not a terrorist.
But federal authorities said yesterday that Tatar used a pizza delivery job - at his father's eatery - to scout Fort Dix as part of a terror plot to kill soldiers there.
And he allegedly provided five co-conspirators with a fort map from the Cookstown restaurant.
Yesterday, in the quiet communities around Fort Dix and McGuire Air Force Base, news of the suspected terror plot so close to home rattled the nerves of soldiers and area residents alike.
"It's a sad situation," said Army National Guard Sgt. David Cohen, 41, of Newark, as he exited the restaurant after lunch yesterday. "You have to be mindful of your surroundings in 2007. It could be anybody - your neighbor or the pizza deliveryman."
Some area schools, including an elementary school in Wrightstown, kept the children indoors as a precaution. Soldiers at the base gates were more vigilant. And area residents gawked at the crowds of reporters and forests of satellite dishes at various Fort Dix gates.
At the Cookstown restaurant called Super Mario's that is owned by Tatar's father, Muslim Tatar, chef Joseph Hofflinger left work - for good, he said. "My son is in the 82d Airborne in Afghanistan," he said. "I wouldn't work for anyone with ties to terrorism."
Hofflinger, of Browns Mills, said he enjoyed working for Muslim Tatar, who had immigrated to the United States from Turkey. He's a "workaholic," coming to the restaurant at 8 a.m. and staying until 10 p.m., he said.
"I'd talk to the boss about business; he's quiet, a nice guy," said Hofflinger. "Sometimes, I'd see Serdar. He was jovial and would ask how I was doing. He wore sweat pants and shirt, and drove a Pontiac Gran Prix - nothing fancy. "
Hofflinger was standing in front of Muslim Tatar's Jeep Cherokee as he described the Tatars. On the front seat of the SUV was a temporary vehicle pass to Fort Dix, allowing Muslim Tatar access to the base through Jan. 31, 2008.
David Moore, a Fort Dix spokesman, said business owners can receive temporary passes after submitting names of workers who will be entering the base. As those workers enter the base, their names are matched against the list, and their licenses, registrations and insurance are checked.
"I know he [Muslim Tatar] is distraught right now," said Hofflinger as he prepared to leave the restaurant. " . . . I'm done. I'm going home."
Yesterday, Muslim Tatar characterized his son's arrest as "religious persecution" and said, "He is not a terrorist. I am not a terrorist," according to the Newark Star-Ledger.
He did not meet with reporters at his eatery, and restaurant workers ordered the media to leave, then summoned police.
The foiled terror plot, and what it meant, were the talk of the community yesterday.
In Wrightstown, Eddie and Maria Samayoa, owners of the Yordana's Pizza & Pasta on Fort Dix Street, said they felt more secure after the arrests of the terror suspects. "Obviously, they [terrorists] are going to try something," said Eddie Samayoa.
Two teachers at a Wrightstown elementary school - Jean Santana, 52, and Dee Diaz, 65, both of Browns Mills - said the school kept the children indoors yesterday because of the news.
"There were concerns from parents," said Santana who was not completely surprised by the news. "I would think we would be a target."
Added Diaz: "We're in the middle of two bases: Fort Dix and McGuire."
Air Force Senior Airman Edward Beck, 24, of Delran, said the arrests showed "that at least someone was doing their job catching these guys. It makes me feel safer.
"It doesn't matter to terrorists if they get killed. They just want to kill American soldiers. They're testing us."
Senior Airman Allen Podolski, 23, who lives on McGuire, where the annual air show will be held over the weekend, said he's "always been vigilant but will be even more now."
At Super Mario's in Cookstown, Rich Strabbing had just learned about the terror-plot arrests as he left the restaurant.
"It's good food here," said Strabbing, 20, a Fort Dix construction worker who lives in King of Prussia. "But I don't know if I will come back here if they've been part of a terror plot. That's a bit much for me."
Another customer, Dave Jones, 53, of Cookstown, said the plot "scares me."
"I fear for our children and ourselves," said Jones, a contractor who arranges resupply flights to military personnel in Greenland. "My 14-year-old daughter goes to school 100 yards from the [Fort Dix] gate."
Sgt. Cohen said the terror plot "is nerve-racking because it's so close to home. But we are trained to deal with situations like this. Security on the base is pretty tight."
Jack Gafford, 61, a project director for United Communities, which is building new military housing on the bases, said the arrests of the suspects "is a positive event.
"Nothing will be perfect," he said. "Any fort can be a target. At least, they caught them. We have very good security. I feel safer on the base than off. This is evidence people are uncovering bad actions."