Fort Dix, New Jersey, U.S.
Planned; never executed; arrested May 8, 2007
U.S. military personnel at Fort Dix
The 2007 Fort Dix attack plot involved a group of six Muslim men who were found guilty of conspiring to stage an attack against U.S. Military personnel stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey. The alleged goal of the group was to "kill as many soldiers as possible".
The men were arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on May 8, 2007, and were prosecuted in federal court in October 2008. On December 22, 2008, five were found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder in their intentions to kill U.S. military personnel; four received life sentences, while one received 33 years in prison. The remaining member was thought to have had a minor role in the plot and was sentenced to five years in prison for weapons offenses.
Some accuse the FBI of entrapment, stating that the FBI informants created the conspiracy. The FBI used two convicts as paid informants in the case, one of whom was fighting deportation. The three Duka brothers are appealing. Because of the plot, the three Duka brothers, Shnewer, and Abdullahu have been referred to as the Fort Dix Five.
The brothers had a history of encounters with police. Between 1996 and 2006, Cherry Hill police charged Dritan and Shain Duka with a number of disorderly persons offenses, including marijuana possession, improper behavior, prowling, disturbing the peace, and obstructing the administration of law. They were fined between $20 and $830 on various occasions and sent home, according to court records. The three brothers were also issued about 50 traffic citations between 1997 and 2006 – more than 20 by Cherry Hill police – for speeding, driving without licenses, driving while on the suspended list, failure to appear in court, and other charges.
In court, central FBI informant Mahmoud Omar confessed that Shain and Dritan did not know about the plan to attack Fort Dix. Seven years after the trial, Omar stated, "I still don’t know why the Dukas are in jail." Omar was ultimately paid $238,000 for his role in the case. The Duka brothers are all serving life sentences.
The six men took a trip to the Poconos mountains, where they allegedly practiced firing "semi-automatic weapons" at a shooting range in Gouldsboro, Pennsylvania. The shooting range, at Pennsylvania State Game Land 127, is operated by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. A group of ten men had recorded video footage of themselves shooting weapons and shouting Allahu Akbar ("God is great"). They had also recorded themselves skiing, playing paintball, and riding horses on their trip to Poconos. The defense argued it was not a terrorist training video.
On January 31, 2006, the men took the video to the Circuit City in Mount Laurel, New Jersey to convert it to a DVD. After viewing it, two employees of the store, Brian Morgenstern and another not named in the indictment, alerted authorities, who initiated a full-scale investigation.
An informant from the FBI infiltrated the group to gather information. The group's planning was caught on video and audio tape by federal authorities. They also trained in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. US Attorney Chris Christie (later elected, and the current Governor of New Jersey) said that one of the suspects was able to draw a detailed map of Fort Dix from memory.
The men continued to work at their jobs. The Duka brothers, Eljvir, Dritan, and Shain (Albanians), worked in roofing. Agron Abdullahu (Albanian), Serdar Tatar (a Turkish legal immigrant), and Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer (a U.S. citizen from Jordan) held a variety of jobs, including as a taxi driver and clerk for 7-Eleven.
According to news reports, five of the men arrested intended to attack the Fort Dix military base and kill as many servicemen as they could. The sixth man arrested, Abdullahu, was charged with aiding and abetting the possession of firearms by the Duka brothers. In a conversation that was recorded by the informant, Shnewer told the FBI informant "My intent is to hit a heavy concentration of soldiers [...] You hit four, five or six Humvees and light the whole place [up] and retreat completely without any losses".
The men tried unsuccessfully to purchase weapons from an FBI informant, including AK-47s, M16s, semi-automatic SIG Sauer 9 mm handguns, and a Smith & Wesson 9 mm. The informant stated that the weapons were to come from an underground military dealer from Baltimore, Maryland, who had recently returned from Egypt.
One of the men in the Fort Dix plot was recorded on a surveillance tape commenting on a lecture by Anwar al-Awlaki, a prominent Muslim cleric of American and Yemeni citizenship, who went into hiding in Yemen after becoming radicalized in prison there during 2006-2007. (He was targeted for killing by President Obama in 2010 because of his numerous alleged terrorist activities, and killed in September 2011 by an unmanned US drone in Yemen.) On that tape, Shain Duka exclaimed “You gotta hear this lecture ... it's the truth, no holds barred, straight how it is!”
The six suspects were indicted on June 5, 2007 and were arraigned in federal court in Camden, New Jersey on June 14 where they pleaded not guilty. The U.S. District Judge Robert B. Kugler called it "an unusual case" and called for the trial to begin by early October, adding, "If the government is not able to prove this case, they should not be in jail. I want to get this resolved."
Agron Abdullahu, suspected of having the smallest role in the attack plot, accepted a plea bargain with a limit of 5 years in prison for his weapons offenses. Prosecutors say that while Abdullahu supplied weapons to the other five men, he resisted the idea of attacking the military base.
Opening arguments were presented on October 20, 2008. Assistant U.S. Attorney William Fitzpatrick asserted that the defendants were inspired by jihad, saying "Their motive was to defend Islam. Their inspiration was Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Their intention was to attack the U.S." Prosecutors presented recordings of the plot obtained by two paid FBI informants during a 16-month undercover investigation, as well as suspicious videos that were found on one defendant's computer. Defense attorneys countered that the videos, alleged by the prosecution to be terrorist training videos, showed the defendants on holiday exhibiting "false bravado". They attacked the credibility of the prosecution's witnesses. On December 22, 2008, the jury found the plotters to be guilty of charges of conspiracy to harm US military personnel. They were acquitted on the charge of attempted murder.
During sentencing, Dritan and Shain Duka received life sentences for the conspiracy conviction, with an additional 30 years for related weapons charges. Eljvir Duka and Mohamad Shnewer both received life sentences, and Serdar Tatar was sentenced to 33 years in prison.
A 2011 NPR report said that some of the men associated with this group were imprisoned in a highly restrictive Communication Management Unit.
The Duka brothers are currently being held at the Federal Detention Center, Philadelphia pending an appeals hearing.
Mohamad Shnewer is serving his life sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution, Terre Haute, a medium-security facility in Indiana.
Serdar Tatar is serving his 33-year sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution, Memphis, a medium-security facility in Tennessee, and is scheduled for release in 2036.
Agron Abdullahu was released on March 24, 2009.
Chronology of events
Retrieved hard drive
On the hard drive of a retrieved laptop, the downloaded last will and testament of two of the hijackers in the September 11 attacks and militant Islamist recruiting speeches given by Osama bin Laden and others were allegedly recovered.