FORT DIX, N.J. - After a briefing on Fort Dix security, a congressman said he doubted that a group of alleged terror plotters could have gotten onto the post to carry out an attack.
"The military police are well-armed and mean business," said U.S. Rep. Jim Saxton, a Republican whose district includes the sprawling Burlington County base that is mostly used to train reservists. "The plotters may have had difficulties in pulling off their plan."
Six men - Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer, 22; Serdar Tatar, 23; Dritan "Anthony" Duka, 28; Shain Duka, 26; Eljvir "Elvis" Duka, 23 and Agron Abdullahu, 24 - were arrested May 7. Authorities said they had been following the men for more than a year and decided to move in because they believed the suspects were trying to buy automatic weapons to use in an attack.
Five of the men were charged with conspiring to kill military personnel and face life in prison if they are convicted. Abdullahu is charged with weapons offenses and faces 10 years in prison if he is found guilty. All six men are held without bail.
Saxton's spokesman, Jeff Sagnip, said the congressman was impressed with the security at entrances to Fort Dix. Though regular delivery drivers are allowed onto the base, any vehicle carrying several people would have been a red flag, Sagnip said.
He said military police photograph every vehicle and driver who try to enter the base and make sure the license plates match the vehicle registration.
MPs also do not allow undocumented immigrants - like three of the six suspects - through the gates.
Meanwhile, state Homeland Security Director Richard Canas told an Assembly security panel that the foiled alleged plot showed counterterrorism efforts were working. "The system worked the way it should have worked," said Canas, who was asked to appear before the Homeland Security and State Preparedness Committee yesterday to discuss security at military bases.
Speaking at the entrance to the base earlier yesterday, Saxton and U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg said the alleged plot showed how loopholes in the nation's gun control and military security laws could be exploited, and they promoted bills they have introduced to address those shortcomings.
Lautenberg introduced a bill last month that would bar selling guns to people on an FBI list of suspected terrorists. "Common sense tells us that we shouldn't let known or suspected terrorists buy a gun," he said.
But Lautenberg noted that it's legal. In one study, he said, 35 suspected terrorists across the country legally bought guns over five months.
The National Rifle Association opposes his bill.
It's unclear how Lautenberg's proposal may have affected the alleged plot against Fort Dix. Authorities have said the suspects obtained the weapons they had illegally.
Saxton said he was trying to get a floor debate in the House this week on his proposal to require federal background checks for anyone seeking to enter domestic military installations. He wants the measure, which he has been advocating for about four years, to be amended to a military spending bill. It's more urgent now, Saxton said, in light of the alleged plot.
Also yesterday, a spokeswoman for the Islamic Center of South Jersey, a Palmyra mosque where at least four of the suspects sometimes worshipped, announced a town hall meeting for Friday night. Mosque leaders have said they oppose the violence their members were allegedly planning.