CAMDEN, N.J. – Five Muslim immigrants accused of scheming to massacre U.S. soldiers at Fort Dix were convicted of conspiracy Monday in a case that tested the FBI’s post-Sept. 11 strategy of infiltrating and breaking up terrorist plots in their earliest stages.
The men could get life in prison when they are sentenced in April.
The five, who lived in and around Philadelphia for years, were found guilty of conspiring to kill U.S. military personnel. But they were acquitted of attempted murder after prosecutors acknowledged the men were probably months away from an attack and did not necessarily have a specific plan. Four defendants were also convicted of weapons charges.
The federal jury deliberated for 38 hours over six days.
Defense lawyers argued that the alleged plot was all talk – that the men weren’t seriously planning anything and that they were manipulated and goaded by two paid FBI informants.
Faten Shnewer, the mother of defendant Mohamad Shnewer, said the informants should be the ones in jail. “Not my son and his friends. It’s not right, it’s not justice,” she said after the verdict. The government “sent somebody to push him to say something; that’s it.”
Convicted were: Shnewer, a Jordanian-born cab driver; Turkish-born convenience store clerk Serdar Tatar; and brothers Dritan, Eljvir and Shain Duka, ethnic Albanians from the former Yugoslavia who had a roofing business.
The yearlong investigation began after a clerk at a Circuit City store told police that some customers had asked him to transfer onto DVD some video footage of them firing assault weapons and screaming about jihad.
The FBI asked two informants – foreign-born men who entered the U.S. illegally and had criminal records – to befriend the suspects. The informants were paid and were offered help obtaining legal resident status.
During the eight-week trial, the government relied heavily on information gathered by the informants.
Prosecutors said the men bought several assault rifles supplied by the FBI and that they trekked to Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains to practice their shooting. The government also presented dozens of jihadist speeches and videos that the men supposedly used as inspiration.
The group’s objective was to kill “as many American soldiers as possible,” prosecutors said.
But the men’s lawyers attacked the credibility of the informants and accused them of instigating the plot.
After the verdict, Schnewer’s attorney, Rocco Cipparone, said there would not have been a conspiracy without the involvement of the informants. “I believe they shaped the evidence,” he said.
Prosecutor William Fitzpatrick defended the government’s handling of the case, telling the jury: “The FBI investigates crime on the front end. They don’t want to have to do it on the back end.”