6 Men Arrested in a Terror Plot
Against Fort Dix
By DAVID KOCIENIEWSKI
Published: May 9, 2007
CAMDEN, N.J., May 8 — Six Muslim men from New Jersey
and Philadelphia were charged Tuesday with plotting
to attack Fort Dix with automatic weapons and
possibly even rocket-propelled grenades, vowing in
taped conversations “to kill as many soldiers as
possible,” federal authorities said.
The arrests came after a 15-month investigation
during which the F.B.I. and two informers who had
infiltrated the group taped them training with
automatic weapons in rural Pennsylvania, conducting
surveillance of military bases in the Northeast,
watching videos of Osama bin Laden and the 9/11
hijackers and trying to buy AK-47 assault rifles.
The authorities described the suspects as Islamic
extremists and said they represented the newest
breed of threat: loosely organized domestic
militants unconnected to — but inspired by — Al
Qaeda or other international terror groups.
But the criminal complaint that details the plot
describes an effort that was alternately ambitious
and clumsy, with the men at turns declaring
themselves eager to sacrifice their lives in the
name of Allah and worrying about getting arrested or
deported for buying weapons or possessing a map of a
The suspects include three ethnic Albanian brothers
who entered the United States illegally, part of a
family that has lived for years in Cherry Hill,
N.J., where they attended public schools and
relatives ran a roofing business and a pizzeria.
They were joined by their brother-in-law, who was
born in Jordan and is a United States citizen, and
two other legal United states residents: an ethnic
Albanian from the former Yugoslavia, and a Turk who
lived in Philadelphia.
The men, ages 22 to 28, held jobs ranging from
roofer to cabdriver to pizza deliveryman, and had no
clear motivation other than their stated desire to
kill United States soldiers in the name of Islam.
They considered a variety of targets, including the
annual Army-Navy football game and warships docked
in the Port of Philadelphia, but ultimately
dismissed Dover Air Force Base in Delaware as having
too much security and picked Fort Dix largely
because one of their fathers owned a restaurant
nearby that delivered to the base.
The authorities first caught up with the men in
January 2006, when personnel at a video store
alerted the authorities after the suspects requested
that he transfer onto a DVD a videotape of the group
shouting about jihad as they fired assault weapons
at a range in the Pocono Mountains.
“This is a new brand of terrorism where a small cell
of people can bring enormous devastation,”
Christopher J. Christie, the United States attorney
for New Jersey, said at an afternoon news conference
at the courthouse here.
As the suspects were charged before a United States
magistrate judge, Joel Schneider, prosecutors
described a complicated operation that was marked by
deadly weapons but also lacking in sophistication.
The authorities said one of the men had been a
sniper in Kosovo, and as they sought to amass the
weapons they intended to use in the attack, members
of the cell were training with automatic rifles at a
shooting range in Gouldsboro, Pa.
“When it comes to defending your religion, when
someone is trying to attack your religion, your way
of life, then you go jihad,” Eljvir Duka, 23, who
also went by the nickname Elvis, is quoted as saying
in the complaint. His elder brother Dritan Duka, who
is 28 and known as Tony, said at another point that
“as far as people, we have enough.”
“Seven people, and we are all crazy,” Dritan Duka
said. “We can do a lot of damage with seven people.”
Federal agents said that it was unclear when the
attack was to take place, because in the taped
conversations the suspects said they were waiting
for a fatwa, or authorization from an Islamic
cleric. But prosecutors and officials said they had
no doubt that the suspects were both capable and
determined to strike.
“Today we dodged a bullet,” J. P. Weiss, special
agent in charge of the F.B.I.’s Philadelphia office,
said at the news conference. “In fact, when you look
at the type of weapons that this group was trying to
purchase, we may have dodged a lot of bullets.”
Mr. Weiss added: “We had a group that was forming a
platoon 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. Luckily, we were able to stop that.”
In Washington, senior law enforcement officials said
that while the charges against those arrested were
serious, there was no evidence that they were
connected with any foreign terrorist organizations
or broader conspiracy.
“They appear to be individuals who were actively
perusing radical Web sites and began shooting
weapons, doing surveillance and trying to get some
advanced weaponry,” said one official who spoke on
the condition of anonymity, because the matter was
still under investigation.
It is the latest in a series of plots, targeting
sites in the United States, that authorities said
they have foiled. These included one last June in
which seven arrests were made in Miami after the
authorities described suspects talking about blowing
up the Sears Tower in Chicago and the F.B.I.’s Miami
headquarters. In June 2003, the authorities said
they thwarted a plot to bring down the Brooklyn
Bridge, and in 2002, six Yemeni-Americans from
Lackawanna, N.Y., near Buffalo, were arrested and
linked with Qaeda interests.
While the exact path of the Duka family’s
immigration was unknown, thousands of ethnic
Albanians and others fled to this country after the
United States led NATO air attacks against Yugoslav
forces in Kosovo and bombed Belgrade in 1999 to keep
Slobodan Milosevic’s government from attacking
ethnic Albanians and Muslims. Many were held first
at Fort Dix, and settled in the area.
Five of the suspects, who were arrested in three
raids on Monday night, were charged with conspiring
to kill American military personnel, a crime
punishable by life in prison. The sixth, Agron
Abdullahu, 24, was charged with aiding and abetting
the illegal weapons purchase, which carries a
sentence of up to 10 years. The three Duka brothers
— Dritan, Eljvir and Shain, 26 — were also charged
with violating the federal law that prohibits
illegal aliens from possessing weapons.
The criminal complaint describes the Dukas’
brother-in-law, Mohamad Shnewer, as the coordinator
of the plot, determined to obtain the cache of
weapons. He arranged the training sessions in
Pennsylvania, the complaint says. “My intent is to
hit a heavy concentration of soldiers,” Mr. Shnewer
is quoted as saying in one taped conversation. “You
hit four, five or six Humvees and light the whole
place up and retreat completely without any losses.”
The men never managed to obtain rocket-propelled
grenades, but they had substantial firepower,
including handguns, an assault rifle and a
semiautomatic assault weapon, the authorities said.
They were arrested as they tried to buy, from an
F.B.I. informer, four AK-47s and M-16s, which were
inoperable. “They were at the point where they
wanted the final piece of their plan, to obtain the
final weaponry,” Mr. Christie said.
Cassie Herman, who lives in Blackwood, N.J., where
the Duka family once owned a pizzeria, said she
rented her 5,000-square-foot home in a gated
community on Big Bass Lake to Eljvir Duka for a week
in February, and to someone from the F.B.I. for a
few days just before.
Kevin O’Brien, 36, who lives in the same community,
said he had gone to bars twice with several of the
men, who told him they were avid hunters. Mr.
O’Brien said the men drank whiskey and beer and
asked him about his stint in the Marines, trading
stories of their own military training in the former
Tom Cornine, a bartender at the Gouldsboro Inn,
recalled two of the men there on a February weekend,
drinking Stoli on the rocks until they drained the
bottle, then Absolut. “They drank more than the
average man,” Mr. Cornine said.
For all the suspects’ talk of holy war and
martyrdom, investigators said there is little
indication that they were devout, or even
practicing, Muslims. Leaders at nearby Muslim houses
of worship said they had never seen the suspects and
were troubled to learn they had tried to use faith
as a justification for their plan.
“This is not what our religion teaches us,” said Zia
Rahman, who helped found a mosque in nearby
Voorhees. “These people claim to be Muslim, but I
don’t know how they can be. Islam is a religion of
peace, not of violence, and this goes against the
grain of our religion.”
Reporting was contributed by Jack Begg, Nina
Bernstein, Jill P. Capuzzo, David W. Chen, Alain
Delaquérière, Andrea Elliott, Richard G. Jones, Neil
A. Lewis, Michael Moss, Sabrina Pacifici, Nate
Schweber, Robert Strauss and Ethan Wilensky-Lanford.