Tragic Sentencing for Fort Dix Five
- Emotions high during the hearings of five Muslims who were convicted of plotting an attack on the Army base in New Jersey.
High security expected for sentencing in Ft. Dix case
April 26, 2009
Camden, N.J. -- Since they were convicted last year of conspiring to kill military personnel, five immigrants have been busy -- and at times erratic.
Eljvir Duka, one of three brothers convicted, wrote a letter to the judge in the case seeking to convert him to Islam.
Duka and Serdar Tatar have tried to dismiss their court-appointed lawyers -- but changed their minds.
While maintaining his innocence, Mohamad Shnewer has apologized for inadvertently dragging his friends into the case.
As a group, they're pursuing a lawsuit to try to get out of a tightly restricted section of the federal detention center in Philadelphia.
And a few of them were part of a courtroom disruption, yelling, "Allahu akbar," Arabic for "God is great." The commotion was quickly calmed.
It all suggests that emotions will run high on Tuesday and Wednesday when the men -- or at least some of them -- and their relatives and friends speak in court before a judge metes out their punishment.
"There's a generalized concern that there may be some acting out" by relatives of the convicted men, said Michael Riley, the lawyer for one of the five, Shain Duka. "They're upset. There's a lot of bad feelings and tempers."
Courthouse security, which was tightened for the trial, is expected to be at a high level again for the sentencings.
The sentencings could be the last time any of the convicts are in the federal courthouse in Camden, N.J.
Government prosecutors have not publicly revealed what sentences they're seeking. But under law, each man could get life in prison -- and there's no indication the government is looking to give anyone a break. Two -- Shain and Dritan Duka -- could each face two life sentences.
"I anticipate some really big numbers," Riley said.
When the men were arrested in May 2007, the government characterized them as dangerous homegrown plotters who were considering attacking soldiers at Ft. Dix, an Army base in New Jersey used mainly to train reservists for duty in Iraq.
At the time, all the men were in their 20s. All had lived for years in the Philadelphia suburb of Cherry Hill, N.J., and worked jobs such as installing roofs, driving cabs and helping run convenience stores.
The investigation began early in 2006, when a clerk at a Circuit City store reported that some men had asked him to convert from video to DVD a movie that showed the men, and others, firing guns and yelling, "Allahu akbar."
Their trial last year stretched from October through December, with much of the testimony coming from a pair of paid government informants with criminal histories.
A jury found the defendants guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, but acquitted them on attempted murder charges.
Four of them were also convicted on weapons charges.
There will be some legal issues that may have to be resolved. Sentencing guidelines call for stiffer penalties for people convicted in terrorism cases and those whose victims are government employees.
Richard Sparaco, the lawyer for Tatar, said there could be arguments about how those rules should be applied.
All three Duka brothers are to be sentenced Tuesday. Shnewer and Tatar are to be sentenced Wednesday.
4 life terms, 1 33-year sentence in Fort Dix case
By GEOFF MULVIHILL
The Associated Press
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
CAMDEN, N.J. -- A man who was the "epicenter of the conspiracy" to kill military personnel was sentenced to life in prison and a fellow plotter was sentenced to 33 years as a judge on Wednesday finished sentencing five Muslim immigrants who contemplated an attack on Fort Dix.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler had sentenced the three others involved in the plot to at least life in prison. Overall, Kugler seemed to accept the position of prosecutors that the plot
was one of the most frightening homegrown terrorism plots ever hatched in the U.S.
Under federal law, none of the four men given life sentences will be eligible for parole. With each of the four, Kugler cited their actions in the plot, their run-ins with the law - either before the investigation began or in the federal detention center in Philadelphia - and what he called their radical Islamist ideology.
On Wednesday, Mohamad Shnewer, a 24-year-old U.S. citizen born in Jordan, received a sentence of life plus 30 years. Kugler said the sentence reflected his position as "the epicenter of the conspiracy" by frequently suggesting ways to kill military personnel. The judge dismissed the young man's contention that he was talking about violence only because Mahmoud Omar, an FBI informant, pushed him into it.
"I might have spoken like a jihadist," said Shnewer, a former Cherry Hill resident who drove a cab and worked in his family's food market. "But I don't have what it takes to be a jihadist."
Like the families of the other men, relatives of Serdar Tatar spoke in court, describing the Turkish-born 25-year-old as a loving man who helped his stepson with homework. They said he was not interested in violence and cried about the shootings at Virginia Tech two years ago.
"I believe that everything that's going on is happening in some horrible dream," said his wife, Halide Mirayeva, as she spoke on the couple's third wedding anniversary.
Unlike the other men, who wore stoic expressions or even smiled during the sentencing proceedings, Tatar was sullen. He cried as his family spoke.
Tatar, a former restaurant worker and 7-Eleven clerk who lived in
Philadelphia, spoke in court for about 40 minutes. Much of his talk was devoted to giving his side of a bizarre incident in the investigation - when he went to Philadelphia police, then the FBI, to report that someone had asked him for a map of Fort Dix.
At the time, his father owned a pizza shop near the central New Jersey Army installation, used primarily to train reservists for deployments in Iraq. Prosecutors say the men were focusing on the fort as a target because of Tatar's knowledge of the base.
In the trial, government prosecutors portrayed Tatar's approaching
authorities as a savvy effort to smoke out Omar as an FBI informant.
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