Six Charged in Plot To Attack Fort Dix
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
CHERRY HILL, N.J., May 8 -- A group of would-be terrorists, allegedly undone after attempting to have jihad training videos copied onto a DVD, has been charged with conspiring to attack Fort Dix and kill soldiers there with assault rifles and grenades, authorities said Tuesday.
Five men -- all foreign-born and described as "radical Islamists" by federal authorities -- allegedly trained at a shooting range in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains to kill "as many soldiers as possible" at the historic Army base 25 miles east of Philadelphia. A sixth man was charged with helping them obtain illegal weapons.
FBI and Justice Department officials said the arrests were the result of a 16-month operation to infiltrate and monitor the group. It was portrayed as a leaderless, homegrown cell of immigrants from Jordan, Turkey and the former Yugoslavia who came together because of a shared infatuation with Internet images of jihad, or holy war.
Authorities said the group has no apparent connection to al-Qaeda or other international terrorist organizations aside from ideology, but appears to be an example of the kind of self-directed sympathizers widely predicted -- and feared -- by counterterrorism specialists. The defendants allegedly passed around and copied images of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the martyrdom videos of two of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers.
"Unlike other cases we've done, there was no clear ringleader," U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie said in an interview. "They all seemed to feed off each other. They were clearly guys turning to this element for inspiration. They wanted to be jihadists."
At the same time, a 26-page indictment unsealed Tuesday indicates that the group had no rigorous military training and did not appear close to being able to pull off an attack. The arrests in the case began Monday night after two defendants arrived at a local home to buy assault weapons, which had been supplied and disabled by the FBI, officials said.
Much of the evidence in the case was obtained with the help of two paid informants, including one described as an Egyptian military veteran who befriended one suspect about a year ago and surreptitiously taped many of their conversations. The defendants were also tripped up by information obtained from computers and cellphones, according to records and officials.
The FBI first got wind of the alleged plot in January 2006, after an unidentified store clerk alerted police to a video that showed the men firing assault weapons, calling for jihad and yelling "God is great" in Arabic, officials said. The men had submitted the video file to the store so that it could be copied onto a DVD, authorities said.
According to the indictments, the video came from firearms training in the Poconos. The group also allegedly trained with paintball guns and scouted several military facilities for an attack, including Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, the U.S. Coast Guard Building in Philadelphia and other targets.
Authorities said the group settled on Fort Dix in part because one defendant, Serdar Tatar, 23, had delivered pizzas to the base from his family's nearby restaurant, Super Mario Pizza, and knew the area "like the palm of his hand," according to a defendant. Tatar, who was born in Turkey and is a legal U.S. resident, also obtained a map of the base, according to the charges.
In one recording cited in court documents, Tatar raised the possibility that the informant worked for the FBI and acknowledged the risk of sharing the map. But he said that "it doesn't matter to me whether I get locked up, arrested or taken away. Or I die, it doesn't matter. I'm doing it in the name of Allah."
Another defendant, Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer, 22, a Jordanian native employed as a taxi driver in Philadelphia, was quoted in the indictment as saying that "you can hit an American base very easily."