WASHINGTON – FBI agents arrested five radical Islamists for allegedly plotting to “kill as many U.S. Soldiers as they could” at the Army’s Fort Dix, N.J., and a sixth defendant is charged with aiding and abetting members of the domestic terror group, authorities announced Tuesday.
The arrests occurred Monday night in Cherry Hill, N.J., as suspects tried to buy three AK47 assault rifles and four semi-automatic M-16s from a confidential government witness. These apprehensions culminate a 16-month FBI investigation into the groups’ alleged plot to kill Soldiers with assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades, according to a complaint filed in the Camden, N.J. Federal court.
“The philosophy that supports and encourages jihad around the world against Americans came to live here in New Jersey and threatened the lives of our citizens through these defendants. Fortunately, law enforcement in New Jersey was here to stop them,” Christopher Christie, U.S. Attorney for the district of New Jersey, told reporters outside the courthouse.
“We were able to do what American law enforcement is supposed to do in the post 9/11 era, and that is to be one step ahead of those who are attempting to do harm to American citizens,” he said.
The special agent in charge of the FBI in Philadelphia, Jody Weis, described the “homegrown” group as new brand of terrorism that’s inspired by al Qaeda, but not necessarily affiliated with the international organization.
Weiss called the suspects a platoon that sought to take on an Army.
“They identified their target, they did their reconnaissance, they had maps, and they were in the process of buying weapons,” he said. “We dodged a bullet. In fact, when you look at the type of weapons this group was trying to purchase, we may have dodged a lot of bullets.”
The FBI’s investigation began January 2006 when a video store representative tipped off officials after a man brought a “disturbing” video to be converted to DVD format. Weiss thanked the unnamed clerk for displaying vigilance, calling the worker an “unsung hero.”
According to the court complaint, the video “depicted 10 young men who appeared to be in their early 20s shooting assault weapons at a firing range in a militia-like style while calling for jihad and shouting in Arabic ‘Allahu Akbar,’” or God is Great.
Three of these men were suspects Dritan, Eljvir and Shain Duka, brothers born in former Yugoslavia who have been living in the United States illegally and operating a roofing company. Other suspects include legal U.S. residents Serdar Tatar, a convenience store clerk born in Turkey, and Mohamad Irahim Shnewar, a Jordanian-born taxi driver.
Agron Abdullahu, a shop clerk born in former Yugoslavia, is charged only with aiding and abetting the Duka brothers’ illegal possession of weapons, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison, Justice Department officials said.
Transcripts of the recorded conversations between two witnesses and suspects appear in the court complaint. During one conversation, Shnewer stated that he and the first witness, called CW-1, should view a video stored on the suspect’s computer, but that they had to do so in private because “it’s about something that can lead to prison.”
“The DVD contains video footage of various jihadist images while a narrator recruits the observer to the jihadist movement,” the court complaint states. The court document describes another video that contained what appears to be the last will and testament of at least two of the highjackers involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
After undergoing weapons training in Gouldsboro, Pa., in January 2006, Shnewer and the witness conducted surveillance on several military bases, including Fort Dix; Fort Monmouth, N.J.; Dover Air Force Base, Del.; and the U.S. Coast Guard Building in Philadelphia.
Shnewer explained to the witness in August 2006 that he and the other suspects had saved up money to purchase weapons and were “not afraid to die.” The document describes Shnewer lamenting the missed opportunity to attack U.S. military personnel during the Army-Navy football game that had been recently played in Philadelphia.
He recommended to CW-1 they use six or seven jihadists to attack and kill at least 100 Soldiers with rocket-propelled grenades or other weapons, the court document states.
“If you want to do anything here, there is Fort Dix, and I don’t want to exaggerate, and I assure you that you can hit an American base very easily,” Shnewer is quoted as saying in the court complaint. “You take a map and draw it, and then you calculate that there are areas where there are 100-200 individuals and you should allocate six to seven persons for this alone.”
When asked how he would obtain a map of the base, Shnewer told the witness that the suspect Serdar used to deliver pizzas nearby. “I know that Serdar knows it like the palm of his hand,” Shnewer allegedly said.
In a conversation recorded March 2007 between the second informant, CW-2, and two of the Duka brothers, Shain Duka “explained that (the suspect) Tatar wanted to join the U.S. Army so that he could kill U.S. Soldiers from the ‘inside,’” the court document states. The complaint includes no evidence suggesting Tatar tried to enlist in U.S. Armed Forces, however.
In January 2007, three of the suspects obtained handguns, shotguns and semi-automatic assault weapons to be used for further training, according to the court complaint.