By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 23, 2008 - A federal jury yesterday found five men guilty of conspiracy to kill U.S. soldiers at Fort Dix, N.J., but acquitted them of attempted murder. After nearly six days of deliberation, the jury rendered the guilty verdict for three brothers -- Shain, Eljvir and Dritan Duka -- and two other defendants, Mohamad Shnewer and Serdar Tatar. They face a maximum of life in prison, according to a Justice Department news release published yesterday.
Federal prosecutors said the five men, all Muslim immigrants who were arrested in Cherry Hill, N.J., in May 2007, were planning to attack Fort Dix and military personnel.
"Today's verdicts underscore the need for continued vigilance against homegrown terror threats," Assistant Attorney General Patrick Rowan stated in the release.
"While these defendants were not members of an international terrorist organization, their involvement in weapons training, their surveillance of domestic targets and their discussions of killing U.S. military personnel posed a serious threat that required the law enforcement disruption and the prosecutions upheld by the jury today," he said.
The prosecution's case was based on evidence culled from a 16-month FBI investigation that led to the apprehensions. FBI agents arrested the suspects May 7, 2007, as Dritan and Shain Duka tried to buy three AK-47 assault rifles and four semi-automatic M-16s from a confidential government witness.
"They identified their target, they did their reconnaissance, they had maps, and they were in the process of buying weapons," Jody Weiss, the special agent in charge of the FBI in Philadelphia, said a day after the arrests.
"Today we dodged a bullet," Weiss added. "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.
According to a court complaint described during the arrests, the video "depicted 10 young men who appeared to be in their early twenties 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.
In addition, the jury viewed secretly recorded videotapes of the defendants performing small-arms training at a shooting range in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania, watching training videos showing the slayings of American soldiers and depicting known foreign Islamic radicals urging jihad against the United States, the release states.
Janice K. Fedarcyk, special agent in charge of the FBI's Philadelphia Division, praised the video store employee-turned-whistleblower.
"Vigilance was the key to disrupting the dangerous terrorists convicted today and we are glad they are off the street," Fedarcyk states in the release.
At the time of arrest, the Duka brothers, who were born in what was then Yugoslavia, had been living in the United States illegally and operating a roofing company; Shnewar, a Jordanian-born taxi driver, and Tatar, a convenience store clerk born in Turkey, are both legal U.S. residents.
The jury found that one member of the group conducted surveillance at Fort Dix and Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and the U.S. Coast Guard facility in Philadelphia. The co-conspirator obtained a detailed map of Fort Dix, where they hoped to use assault rifles to kill as many soldiers as possible, according to trial testimony and evidence.