"Paintball Terrorists" May Get Life
- New Jersey Men Convicted of Plot to Attack Fort Dix
By Jef Feeley and Fred Cusick
December 22, 2008
Dec. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Five men, described by prosecutors as "radical
Islamists," were convicted of conspiring to kill American soldiers at
the Fort Dix Army base in New Jersey.
A federal jury in Camden, New Jersey, today found Mohamad Shnewer,
Dritan Duka, Shain Duka, Eljvir Duka and Serdar Tatar guilty of
conspiracy and weapons charges. Each faces a possible sentence of
life in prison. Prosecutors contended the Muslim immigrants ecame
friends in high school in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and later formed a
domestic terror cell.
Arriving at the verdict was "one of the most difficult things that we
have had to do," the jury, which deliberated more than five days,
said in a statement read in court by the judge. "We have not reached
our conclusion lightly."
The men, ages 23 to 30, were acquitted of attempted murder charges.
They were arrested in May 2007 after a 15-month probe by the Federal
Bureau of Investigation concluded they had scouted military
installations such as Fort Dix and Dover Air Force Base in Delaware,
negotiated to buy M-16 and AK-47 assault rifles, trained for their
mission and repeatedly watched videos of al-Qaeda attacks and
Prosecutors contended the friends shared radical religious beliefs
and sought to punish the U.S. military for operations in Iraq and
Afghanistan. Two informants secretly taped meetings where the alleged
plot took shape, according to testimony.
Ralph Marra, the acting U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, said he
was "very gratified" by today's verdict. It showed the
defendants "had the intent and had done the preparation to do serious
harm" to members of the U.S. military, Marra said at a news
The government learned of the impeding attacks after the group asked
a Circuit City Stores Inc. employee to transfer a video of them
firing weapons and shouting "Allah Akbar" to a DVD. The phrase is
Arabic for "God is great." The employee tipped off FBI agents about
Prosecutors will be seeking the maximum penalty of life in prison for
the conspiracy convictions, Marra said. U.S. District Judge Robert
Kugler is scheduled to sentence the men in April. Lawyers for the men
said they are considering appeals.
"The most I could say is, I wish the outcome had been different,"
Rocco Cipparone Jr., Schnewer's defense attorney, told reporters
after the verdict.
The Duka brothers -- Dritan, 30, Shain, 27, and Eljivir, 25 -- are
ethnic Albanians from the former Yugoslavia who operated roofing
businesses in Cherry Hill. Shnewer, 23, who was born in Jordan, was a
taxi driver in nearby Philadelphia while Tatar, 25, originally from
Turkey, worked at a convenience store in the city.
Schnewer's mother, Faten Schnewer, said "the only reason" the men
were convicted was because they are Muslims. "I'm sure 100 percent,"
she told reporters. Marra denied that anti-Muslim prejudice played a
role. "I can't accept that," he said.
Shnewer allegedly told one of the government informants that he
targeted Fort Dix, located about 20 miles from the state capital in
Trenton, because he wanted "to hit a heavy concentration of
soldiers," according to court filings.
The group trained for the attacks by visiting paintball facilities in
Pennsylvania's Pocono mountains, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael
Hammer told jurors in closing arguments.
"For others, paintball might be simple recreation," Hammer said. For
members of the group, "it was serious training," he said.
Defense attorneys dismissed the government's evidence that the group
discussed attacking military facilities as "conversational ramblings"
of young men.
"Much of the evidence in this case comes from the fantasy world" of
Shnewer and other members of the group, said Michael Huff, an
attorney for Dritan Duka.
Cipparone targeted government informant Mahmoud Omar, a convicted
felon paid almost $240,000 by the FBI to infiltrate the group, as the
instigator of the men's jihadist leanings.
Omar "pushed and pushed" Shnewer to make incriminating comments about
attacking U.S. bases, Cipparone told jurors. Still, "Omar the
manipulator" wasn't able to get Shnewer or the others to carry out
the attacks, he said.
The case is USA v. Dritan Duka, 07-m-2046, U.S. District Court,
District of New Jersey (Camden).
To contact the reporters on this story: Jef Feeley in Wilmington,
Delaware, at jfeeley@...; Fred Cusick in Camden, New
Jersey, at fqsick@....
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