FORT DIX, N.J. – Six men described by federal prosecutors as “Islamic militants” were arrested on charges they plotted to attack the Fort Dix Army post and “kill as many soldiers as possible,” federal authorities said Tuesday.
White House spokesman Tony Snow said Tuesday there is “no direct evidence” that the men have ties to international terrorism.
“They are not charged with being members of an international terrorism organization,” Snow said. “At least at this point, there is no evidence that they received direction from international terror organizations.”
Asked if the men had any ties to al-Qaida, Snow referred questions to the
FBI and the U.S. attorney, but said those officials “seem to indicate that there is no direct evidence of a foreign terrorist tie.”
The FBI was tipped off in early 2006 after someone brought a video to a store to be copied onto DVD, according to the agency’s criminal complaint. The video showed 10 men, including the six arrested, shooting assault weapons in militia style and calling for jihad, the complaint said.
“What concerns us is, obviously, they began conducting surveillance and weapons training in the woods and were discussing killing large numbers of soldiers,” said Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd.
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., said U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie told him one of the suspects had a job delivering pizzas to the base and used that opportunity to scout out the possible attack.
“He delivered pizzas to the base and that gave him the ability to map out the who, what, where, when and why of their activities,” Smith said.
Smith said the men had been under surveillance for 16 months and practiced their attacks in the Pocono Mountains in northeastern Pennsylvania. He said they also watched
Osama bin Laden videos.
The six were scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Camden later Tuesday to face charges of conspiracy to kill U.S. servicemen, said Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey. An afternoon news conference was also scheduled with federal authorities.
Officials said four of the men were born in the former Yugoslavia, one in Jordan and one in Turkey. All had lived in the United States for years. Three were in the United States illegally, two had work permits, and the other is a U.S. citizen.
The men were identified in court papers as Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer, Dritan Duka, Eljvir Duka, Shain Duka, Serdar Tatar and Agron Abdullahu. Checks with Immigration and Customs Enforcement show that Dritan Duka, Eljvir Duka and Shain Duka are illegally living in the United States, according to FBI complaints unsealed with their arrests.
Five of the men lived in Cherry Hill, a Philadelphia suburb about 20 miles from Fort Dix.
“They were planning an attack on Fort Dix in which they would kill as many soldiers as possible,” Drewniak said.
A law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity because documents in the case remain sealed, said the attack was stopped in the planning stages. The men also allegedly conducted surveillance at other area military institutions, including Fort Monmouth, a U.S. Army installation, the official said.
The men were arrested Monday trying to buy automatic weapons. The sale was a set-up by law enforcement authorities who had been investigating the men.
Fort Dix is used to train soldiers, particularly reservists. It also housed refugees from
Kosovo in 1999.
At the main gate of the sprawling Army base, military police officers ordered reporters to leave the area immediately.
Republican U.S. Rep. James Saxton, who represents Fort Dix, said the base, along with adjacent McGuire Air Force Base, has been on its highest security alert level.
“This serves as a stark reminder that the threat of jihadists around the world and even here at home is very, very real,” Saxton said. “It is not a threat that exists only in
Iraq and the rest of the Middle East.”
Jeff Sagnip, a spokesman for Saxton, said Fort Dix typically has 15,000 people, including 3,000 soldiers, while McGuire, which is adjacent to Fort Dix, has about 11,500 people.
Soldiers at Fort Dix have been training for warfare in Iraq and
Afghanistan, Sagnip said.
“Everything is a replica of what they would face in the field,” he said.
Since 2001, the base has been closed to the public. There are heavily armed guards at entrances, along with X-ray machines. Yet the main road through neighboring Cookstown cuts through the base and is accessible to the public. A half-dozen locations on the base, including at least two where soldiers were conducting maneuvers Tuesday morning, were only a few hundred yards off the main road.
The description of the suspects as “Islamic militants” renewed fears in New Jersey’s Muslim community. Hundreds of Muslim men from New Jersey were rounded up and detained by authorities in the months following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but none was connected to that plot.
“If these people did something, then they deserve to be punished to the fullest extent of the law,” said Sohail Mohammed, a lawyer who represented scores of detainees after the 2001 attacks. “But when the government says ‘Islamic militants,’ it sends a message to the public that Islam and militancy are synonymous.
“Don’t equate actions with religion,” he said.