Six people have been arrested in a plot to fire grenades and kill scores of soldiers at a New Jersey Army installation, the United States attorney’s office in New Jersey said at a news conference Tuesday. Four of them were born in the former Yugoslavia, one was born in Turkey and one in Jordan, said a spokesman for the office, Greg Reinert.
“Allegedly they wanted to kill as many of the soldiers at Fort Dix as they could,” Mr. Reinert said.
A criminal complaint filed in United States District Court on Monday, said one of the defendants, Dritan Duka, conspired with four others “to kill officers and employees of agencies in the executive branch” of the government. It said that Mr. Duka, who was also known by other names, carried out several actions from Jan. 3, 2006, to about May 7 this year in Camden, Burlington and Monmouth counties in New Jersey, including firearms training, collecting weapons and viewing terrorist training videos.
The six men planned to purchase rocket-propelled grenade launchers then use them to fire at Humvees at Fort Dix and “light the whole place up,” Chris Christie, the United States attorney in New Jersey, said today. The men had apparently looked at a number of military installations in the Northeast but decided on Fort Dix because they thought it would allow them to kill the greatest number of soldiers and to make a clean escape, officials said.
One of the men had also gained access to the grounds of the base as a pizza delivery man and claimed to be familiar with the layout, Mr. Christie said.
“Terrorist attacks are not always going to be on the grand scale of September 11th,” Mr. Christie said. “But keep in mind that terrorist attacks are about creating terror, and an attack on an American military institution in our country clearly would have created the type of terror that people like these who believe in Jihad want to perpetrate on American citizens.” He added, “We believe this attack has now been completely defused.”Mr. Duka, and two others, Eljvir Duka and Shain Duka – all three of whom are brothers – are in the United States illegally, Mr. Christie said.
He said that the three men and the others, named as Mohamad Shnewer, Serdar Tatar and Agron Abdullahu, were identified from a videotape that the F.B.I described as firing assault weapons in a “militia-like style while calling for jihad and shouting Allah Akbar (God is Great).” Mr. Christie said the men made the mistake of taking the tape to a local video store and requesting that it be dubbed to DVD. A clerk who watched the tape called the local police, who alerted the F.B.I.
The arrests were made on Monday night in Cherry Hill, N.J., by F.B.I. and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, law enforcement officials said.
“We do not have any evidence at this time that they are connected directly to any other international terrorist movement around the world,” Mr. Christie said. “But clearly they used the Internet to obtain this jihadist material, which they used as both educational and inspirational for their cause.” The complaint included an affidavit from John J. Ryan, a special agent with the F.B.I., which said that a cooperating witness infiltrated the group and last year recorded some of their conversations. During one of those meetings, the witness recorded Mr. Shnewer as saying that he, Mr. Tatar, Mr. Duka, Eljvir Duka and Shain Duka were part of a group that was planning to attack a United States military base, and specifically mentioned Fort Dix. At other meetings they watched videos of American soldiers being attacked overseas and footage of Osama bin Laden, officials said.
“During one meeting they watched the blowing off of the arm of a United States marine and the room burst out into laughter,” Mr. Christie said. “These are the types of people we are dealing with.”In the complaint, Mr. Shnewer was quoted as saying that they could kill “at least 100 soldiers” using rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons, and that the witness was urged to help lead the attack because he had prior experience in the Egyptian military. They would use a map procured by Mr. Tatar, who used to deliver pizza there, the affidavit said, and the attack would begin with a strike that would cause a power outage.
“They wanted to do this to make it easier for them to kill as many American soldiers as possible,” Mr. Christie said today. Mr. Shnewer also conducted surveillance of other facilities, including the Army base at Fort Monmouth, N.J.; the Dover Air Base in Delaware, and the Coast Guard building in Philadelphia, officials said. Dritan Duka, Eljvir Duka and Shain Duka collected weapons including handguns, shotguns and semi-automatic assault weapons, and trained on firearms in the Poconos region of Pennsylvania. The three men and Mr. Shnewer reviewed terrorist training videos. In addition, he and Dritan Duka ordered AK-47 machine guns.Another witness recorded a conversation in which Mr. Tatar was said to have wanted to join the Army so he could kill American soldiers from the “inside,” the statement said.
All the while, as the men made trips to the Poconos and trained and planned for the attacks, they had no idea they were under surveillance, Mr. Christie said.
The three Duka men and another man lived in Cherry Hill; one in Philadelphia and one in Williamstown, N.J.
Fort Dix, a 30,000-acre base named after a Civil War general, has for generations been the first stop for American soldiers heading off to war. It was used to prepare active-duty soldiers during World War I and II and the war in Vietnam, and more recently has become a training ground for reservists and National Guard units being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 1999, during the Kosovo conflict, Fort Dix was used as part of a humanitarian mission to shelter thousands of displaced refugees. More than 3,000 ethnic Albanians were housed at the base, where they were given sponsors, language and career training, and other assistance. Many of the refugees were Muslims from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia who went on to settle in the area around the base.
Since 2001, the base, which is used by about 13,000 people each day – among them 3,000 soldiers – has been closed to the public.
The White House spokesman, Tony Snow, said this morning that there was no direct evidence of a foreign terrorist operation but that their preparation, weapons training and statements warranted a strong response.
Law enforcement officials in New York City said that there were no targets in the city and that none of the suspects was from New York City.
People at several mosques near Cherry Hill did not recognize the names of the defendants, and said there was no mosque in Cherry Hill but that one is being built that will serve an Indian Muslim sect.
Another mosque in the area, which opened in Voorhees last September, serves Pakistani, Indian and Arab Muslims as well as African-Americans.
Zia Rahman, 60, the managing director and trustee of the Muslim American Community Association, which built the mosque in Voorhees, said the news today, “Makes me feel terrible.””This is not what our religion teaches us,” he added. “These people claim to be Muslims, but I don’t know how they can be. There’s nothing in Islam that tells us to do something like this. Islam is religion of peace, not of violence and this goes against the grain of our religion.”The Jewish-Christian-Muslim Dialogue of Southern New Jersey issued a statement condemning the planned attacks.
“We, Christians, Muslims and Jews, believe that anyone who would seek to attack or kill innocents in the name of their faith violates the values and beliefs of that faith,” the statement said.
“We, ‘Children of Abraham,’ seek peace for all; we categorically condemn ethnic and religious bigotry and stereotyping, or the use of violence for religious or political ends, by the misuse of any religious faith.”