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FBI identifies four more suspects in Fort Dix Terror case not enough evidence to charge them

May 14, 2007

FBI: 4 More Suspects Identified, Not Charged In Fort Dix Terror Case

The FBI said it has identified four more suspects in the Fort Dix terror case but does not have enough evidence to charge them. The six men arrested so far return to court Friday for a bail hearing. Five of the suspects are accused of planning an attack on Fort Dix, according to court documents. The sixth man faces weapons charges.

Prosecutors said the men wanted to kill as many soldiers as possible.

A store clerk at Circuit City tipped off federal agents after the group tried to get a disturbing video copied to DVD. That tape reportedly showed them firing assault weapons and calling for Holy War.


Murky portraits emerge of suspects in Fort Dix plot

Arrests shake communities on 2 continents

By Kareem Fahim and Andrea Elliott, New York Times News Service | May 10, 2007

PHILADELPHIA -- The three Duka brothers -- Eljvir, Shain, and Dritan -- not only prayed here at the Al Aqsa Islamic Center but also recently began repairing its roof.

The work came naturally to them, as members of a large family of ethnic Albanian immigrants who own more than a dozen roofing companies in New York and New Jersey. They began fixing the roof free of charge, at the prodding of their imam and in the hopes of accruing good deeds.

The job remains half finished after the brothers and three other Muslims were taken into custody this week, charged with plotting a terrorist attack against soldiers at the Fort Dix military reservation. Their arrests reverberated through the extended Duka family, from southern New Jersey to the village of Debar, in Macedonia, the family's ancestral home.

"It's fine to be a religion man," said Murat Duka, 55, a distant relative and the first of about 200 Dukas to move to the Northeast, arriving in 1975 to work as a roofer. "But if you get too much to the religion, you get out of your mind and you do stupid things."

More than 4,600 miles away in Debar, a village near the Albanian border where the influence of American emigres is seen in restaurants named Manhattan, Dallas, and Miami, Elez Duka, a first cousin of the three suspects, expressed disbelief that they could be involved in a scheme inspired by Islamic radicals.

"This has to be political propaganda," said Duka, 29, who recently opened an Internet cafe there with money sent by his brothers in America. "America has always helped us."

One day after the men were arraigned in US District Court in Camden, N.J., a portrait is emerging of five of the suspects, who face charges of conspiring to kill US military personnel, which could send them to prison for life. Less is known about the sixth, Agron Abdullahu, 24, who authorities say was a sniper in Kosovo but who faces lesser charges.

Serdar Tatar, 23, a Turkish immigrant who lives in Philadelphia, had grown so religious over the last two years that his father, Muslim Tatar, said they had become estranged. His Russian-born wife, who is pregnant with twins, said he was so busy working that he rarely had time to pray, but sometimes read the Koran and helped her 11-year-old son with his homework.

Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer, 22, a Palestinian born in Jordan, had for the last year kept up an exhausting routine of work, sleep, and prayer, according to his mother. He drove a cab at night in Philadelphia, dropped out of Camden County Community College to help the family pay two mortgages, and attended services occasionally at the Al-Aqsa center.

And there were the Dukas, ages 23, 26 and 28, who came to this country illegally more than a decade ago. The brothers, like so many of their relatives and fellow ethnic Albanian immigrants in the area, have owned a pizzeria and two roofing companies. The brothers are not from an Arabic-speaking nation -- though one is married to a woman from Jordan -- but they sometimes used Arabic names for their roofing businesses: Qadr, which in Arabic means destiny, and Insalah, a commonplace expression that means "if God wills it."

It is not fully known how the Dukas met the other defendants, but their lives began to intersect as early as 1999, when Tatar, Shnewer and Eljvir Duka, known as Elvis, were enrolled at Cherry Hill West High School.

One of Shnewer's five sisters married Eljvir Duka and is pregnant. Yesterday, Lamese and Israa Shnewer, ages 12 and 14, stood in the threshold of their house in Cherry Hill, holding tabloid newspapers with their brother's picture splashed across the front. Cars slowed as they passed. People snapped pictures with cell phones.

The criminal complaint filed against the suspects on Tuesday portrayed Shnewer as a leader in the group, speaking most frequently in taped conversations about tactics. But his mother, Faten, said in an interview that the charges "made no sense."

She said that televised images from the war in Iraq had angered him, and she wondered whether, while he was watching the news, he had said something that was misinterpreted by the authorities.

"He's a good boy," she said as she stood in the doorway of a relative's home. "I'm proud of who we are."

Co-workers and relatives described him as shy with a sweet nature. "Mohamad was like a teddy bear," said Jaime Antrim, the manager of a restaurant in Marlton, N.J., where Shnewer once worked. He showed his religious devotion in some ways -- he would not eat pizza cut with a knife that had come into contact with pork -- but he served alcohol and did not break for the daily Muslim prayers.

Muslim Tatar, who owns the SuperMario's Pizza restaurant near Fort Dix, said his son Serdar had gravitated to radical Islam, prompting a rift between them. "I'm not a religious person," he said. "I don't want my son to be a religious person, but he was a religious person."

The family came to America from Turkey in 1992, settling in Cherry Hill. Muslim Tatar said that he believes that his son fell in with the wrong crowd when he met some of the other suspected plotters in high school. On at least one occasion, Tatar said, his son brought one of the suspected plotters to visit him at the pizza parlor in Cookstown, N.J.

"I told him, 'I don't like this kid, I don't want you together,' " Tatar recalled yesterday.

Though the criminal complaint says that Serdar Tartar became familiar with Fort Dix from delivering pizzas on the base and procured a map of the base in November, his wife said he had not worked at the restaurant in two years, and his father said SuperMario's has only been delivering to the base for three months.

After quitting SuperMario's, Serdar Tatar went to work at 7-Eleven and recently became manager of one of the chain's stores near Temple University in Philadelphia. His wife of a year, Khalida Mirzhyeiva, said that he worked long shifts and rarely went to the mosque. "He planned to have a child and a good family," Mirzhyeiva, 29, said in a telephone interview, which was translated from her native Russian by a neighbor. "He did not plan to kill anybody."

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