Paintball "often played" "unusual activity" and" recent school dropouts" in Cherry Hill jihadi home point to martyrdom intent
May 9, 2007
Cherry Hill Residents Shocked By Terror Plot Bust
(CBS 3) CHERRY HILL, N.J. Three brothers and another suspect arrested in a thwarted terror plot were residents of Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
Neighbors on Mimosa Street where brothers Shain, Dritan and Eljvir Duka reside were shocked to learn their quaint community housed suspects in an alleged terror plot.
A fourth suspect, Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer, also resided in Cherry Hill.
Michael Levine lives two doors away from the Duka's home at 215 Mimosa where he said as many as 14 members of one family resided.
"I've talked to them almost every single day. We are shocked. You wouldn't think it would happen here, you wouldn't think it would happen here in Cherry Hill," Levine said.
Levine described the Duka's as 'very nice people' with strong religious beliefs who brought them veggies often and always said 'hello.' Levine said the quiet family owned a roofing company operated out of their home.
On Monday evening Levine said the neighbors' home was raided by members of the ATF, FBI, Delaware River Port Authority and Cherry Hill Police Department.
Levine said authorities arrived at the home at about 8 p.m. and took the men away in handcuffs.
"All the boys and the father were arrested," said Levine.
Levine said recently he noticed some activity that struck him as odd.
There had been an unusual amount of people coming and going and Levine said the brothers often played paintball at the home.
Just last week Levine said a 16-year-old male living in the home, a friend of his son's, dropped out of Cherry Hill East where he attended high school.
Cherry School officials confirmed a teen along with two other Duka children have dropped out of school in recent weeks.
The school district released the following statement on their Web site:
"Parents, staff, and students are concerned about this morning's news that several Cherry Hill residents have been arrested for their alleged involvement in a foiled terrorist plot targeting soldiers at Ft. Dix. This high-profile incident will likely dominate local and national news over the next few days. As always, our counseling team is available for any students who experience anxiety over this news. In your conversations with students, emphasize their safety and security. Reassure them that their home and school are safe places to be. The National Association of School Psychologists and other sources provide more tips for helping children cope in unsettling times."
CBS 3) PHILADELPHIA Serdar Tatar, a Turkish resident living in Northeast Philadelphia was one of six men arrested in connection to an alleged terror plot targeting locations in New Jersey and Philadelphia.
Residents of Winmont Apartments in the 2100 block of Tremont Street were shocked to learn of their neighbor's alleged involvement in thwarted terror plot.
Philadelphia Police Officers and FBI converged on the Northeast Philadelphia apartment complex at about 10 p.m. Monday raiding apartment C-14 located in the rear of the third floor in search of an alleged terror suspect.
"Terrorist? You know, he was nice when he came, but last time he did not talk to me like always," said neighbor Stacie Gamdlima who lives across the hall from Tatar.
Gamdlima said she was shocked to learn Tatar, who is married and expecting a child, has been arrested in connection to the plot.
"It's scary," said an unidentified resident of the complex, who has lived there for 10 years.
Another resident who witnessed the arrest tells CBS 3 Tatar was quiet and did not resist arrest as he was led away in handcuffs.
He didn't really say anything back, he didn't really fight back, nothing, he just got into the car and left," said Fred Yuldashev.
Sources say Tatar worked at the 7-11 on Cecil B. Moore Avenue on Temple's North Philadelphia campus until three months ago. His alleged role in the terror plot was a map maker, who made a map of the Fort Dix complex. Tatar was allegedly familiar with the base and as a former pizza delivery man for his father's pizza shop, had delivered food to Fort Dix.
Arrested In Fort Dix Terror Plot
(CBS3/AP) PHILADELPHIA Six foreign-born Muslims were arrested and accused Tuesday of plotting to attack Fort Dix and slaughter scores of U.S. soldiers -- a scheme the FBI says was foiled when the men asked a store clerk to copy a video of them firing assault weapons and screaming about jihad.
The defendants, all men in their 20s from the former Yugoslavia and the Middle East, include a pizza deliveryman suspected of using his job to scout out the military base.
Their goal was "to kill as many American soldiers as possible" with mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and guns, prosecutors said.
"Today we dodged a bullet. 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," said FBI agent J.P. Weis.
"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."
Authorities said there was no direct evidence connecting the men to any international terror organizations such as al-Qaida. But several of them said they were ready to kill and die "in the name of Allah," according to court papers.
Investigators said they infiltrated the group with two informants well over a year ago and bided their time while they secretly recorded the defendants, four of whom lived in Cherry Hill, a Philadelphia suburb about 20 miles from Fort Dix.
"This is what law enforcement is supposed to do in the post-9/11 era -- stay one step ahead of those who are attempting to cause harm to innocent American citizens," U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie said.
Weis saluted the unidentified New Jersey store clerk who noticed the suspicious video as the "unsung hero" of the case. "That's why we're here today -- because of the courage and heroism of that individual," the FBI agent said.
In addition to plotting the attack on Fort Dix, the defendants spoke of assaulting a Navy installation in Philadelphia during the annual Army-Navy football game and conducted surveillance at other military installations in the region, prosecutors said.
One defendant, Eljvir Duka, was recorded as saying: "In the end, when it comes to defending your religion, when someone ... attacks your religion, your way of life, then you go jihad."
The six were arrested Monday night trying to buy AK-47 assault weapons, M-16s and other weapons from an FBI informant, authorities said.
They appeared in federal court Tuesday in Camden and were ordered held without bail for a hearing Friday. Five were charged with conspiracy to kill U.S. military personnel; the sixth was charged with aiding and abetting illegal immigrants in obtaining weapons.
Four of the men were born in the former Yugoslavia, one was born in Jordan and one came from Turkey, authorities said. All had lived in the United States for years. Three were in the United States illegally; two had green cards allowing them to stay in this country permanently; and the sixth is a U.S. citizen.
One defendant, Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer, spoke of using rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons to kill at least 100 soldiers, according to court documents.
"My intent is to hit a heavy concentration of soldiers," he was quoted as saying. "You hit four, five or six Humvees and light the whole place (up) and retreat completely without any losses."
"It doesn't matter to me whether I get locked up, arrested or get taken away," another defendant, Serdar Tatar, was alleged to have said. "Or I die, it doesn't matter. I'm doing it in the name of Allah."
The men trained by playing paintball in the woods in New Jersey and taking target practice at a firing range in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains, where they had rented a house, authorities said.
They often watched terror training videos, clips featuring Osama bin Laden, a tape containing the last will and testament of some of the Sept. 11 hijackers, and tapes of armed attacks on U.S. military personnel, erupting in laughter when one plotter noted that a Marine's arm was blown off in an ambush, authorities said.
Asked if those arrested had any links to al-Qaida, White House spokesman Tony Snow said it appears "there is no direct evidence of a foreign terrorist tie."
The FBI's Weis said the U.S. is seeing a "brand-new form of terrorism," involving smaller, more loosely defined groups that may not be connected to al-Qaida but are inspired by its ideology.
"These homegrown terrorists can prove to be as dangerous as any known group, if not more so. They operate under the radar," Weis said.
In court documents, prosecutors said the suspects came to the attention of authorities in January 2006 when a Mount Laurel, N.J., shopkeeper alerted the FBI to a "disturbing" video he had been asked to copy onto a DVD.
The video showed 10 young men "shooting assault weapons at a firing range ... while calling for jihad and shouting in Arabic 'Allah Akbar' (God is great)," the complaint said. The 10 included six of those arrested, authorities said.
Within months, the FBI had managed to infiltrate the group with two informants, according to court documents.
According to the FBI complaint, Tatar delivered pizzas to Fort Dix from Super Mario's Pizza Restaurant in Cookstown. He allegedly used that opportunity to scout out Fort Dix for an attack, authorities said.
"Clearly, one of the guys had an intimate knowledge of the base from having been there delivering pizzas," Christie said.
The men also allegedly conducted surveillance at other area military installations, including Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, and a Philadelphia Coast Guard station.
Besides Shnewer, Tatar and Duka, the other three men were identified in court papers as Dritan Duka, Shain Duka and Agron Abdullahu.
Fort Dix is used to train soldiers, particularly reservists. It also housed refugees from Kosovo in 1999.
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 arrests renewed worries among New Jersey's Muslim community. Hundreds of Muslim men from New Jersey were rounded up and detained in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks, but none were 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.
Timeline Of Events Leading Up To Arrest
(AP) A timeline of events leading up to the arrest Monday night of six Islamic militants who allegedly planned to attack Fort Dix:
NAME: Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer.
NAME: Dritan Duka.
NAME: Shain Duka.
NAME: Eljvir Duka.
NAME: Serdar Tatar.
NAME: Agron Abdullahu.
On Mimosa Drive no one ever suspected the Dukas
On quiet Mimosa Drive in Cherry Hill, the Duka residence was the house that didn't quite fit in.
Maybe it was the two small palm trees planted out front. Or the odd mix of plastic and live flowers in the yard. Or the collection of roofing trucks and junked cars that occasionally cluttered the yard.
But neighbors said they never suspected the house at No. 215 was home to men who were allegedly planning a terrorist attack on Fort Dix.
"You think you know people, but I can't grasp what happened," said Sylvia Petalino, who lives a few doors away.
Neighbors in the upscale, upper middle class neighborhood struggled today to come to terms with the idea a family of suspected terrorists may have been living in their midst. This afternoon, the street was lined with news vans and a steady stream of curious motorists drove around the block, slowing by the house.
Several generations of the Duka family lived in the two-story Colonial. Neighbors knew them as a large, hard-working Muslim family who ran a roofing business.
They were friendly, but not close to their neighbors, said Petalino, who has lived in the neighborhood for seven years.
"We would talk about the normal things that neighbors talk about. Their children would be over here swimming," she said, referring to Dritan Duka's five children.
Dritan was arrested Monday night along with his brothers, Eljvir and Shain, and three other men. The Duka brothers were all ethnic Albanians born in the former Yugoslavia and residing illegally in the U.S., law enforcement officials said. Police found weapons in the house.
Han Koh, who has lived next door to the family for more than two years, said he never saw anything amiss. The Dukas would occasionally pray together outside. The boys would play soccer or football in the street.
Koh's daughter would occasionally walk to the bus stop with the Duka children. The family lent Koh a tool to trim his trees.
"I'm surprised. I'm shocked to realize that they had so many weapons in the house next door," Koh said.
Other neighbors said they regarded the Dukas as odd. Some said the family was standoffish and had an unusual number of visitors. Other neighbors said the Duka men declined to speak to female neighbors who inquired about using their roofing service, preferring to do business with men.
Neighbor Susan DiFrancesco said she noticed lately there were only men living in the house.
"Last fall all the women and children seemed to disappear," she said.
Cherry Hill school officials said two of the Duka brothers attended local schools, though neither graduated. Shain Duka attended 10th and 11th grades, while Eljvir attended 8th through 10th grade. There are no records the eldest brother, Dritan, ever attended school in the town.
Two of the other arrested men - Serdar Tatar and Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer - also attended Cherry Hill schools. Tatar left after the 11th grade, while Shnewer graduated.