Trial starts for U.S. Army base "holy war" plot

CAMDEN, New Jersey Mon Oct 20, 2008 5:04pm EDT

A vehicle entry gate is shown at Fort Dix, New Jersey May 8, 2007. REUTERS/John Randolph

A vehicle entry gate is shown at Fort Dix, New Jersey May 8, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/John Randolph

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CAMDEN, New Jersey (Reuters) - The trial of five men accused of plotting an armed attack on a New Jersey army base opened on Monday with a prosecutor saying they were inspired by al Qaeda and the idea of Islamic "holy war" against America.

The five men, all Muslims born outside the United States, were charged in May 2007 with planning but not executing an attack on the Fort Dix army base, near Philadelphia.

A defense attorney for one of the five said recordings obtained by paid FBI informants that are key to the prosecution case merely showed the "fake bravado" of men who "talk the talk" of militancy but would never "walk the walk."

Assistant U.S. Attorney William Fitzpatrick said the defendants were inspired by "jihad," an Arabic word for spiritual struggle that is frequently used by al Qaeda and by counter-terrorism specialists to denote "holy war."

"Their motive was to defend Islam. Their inspiration was al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Their intention was to attack the U.S.," Fitzpatrick told the Federal Court.

He told the jury that prosecutors would present about 90 recordings of the plot obtained by two paid FBI informants during a 16-month undercover investigation.

"They are not shy about saying who they want to shoot: American military personnel," Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick said that the five defendants amassed an arsenal of weapons with which they were planning to attack Fort Dix and kill as many soldiers as possible.

The defendants, all in their 20s, are Yugoslav-born ethnic Albanian brothers Eljvir, Dritan and Shain Duka, illegal immigrants who ran a roofing business in New Jersey; Mohamad Shnewer, a Jordanian-born taxi driver from Philadelphia; and Serdar Tatar, a Turkish-born convenience store clerk.

Rocco Cipparone, an attorney for Shnewer, said his client never intended to carry out the attacks referred to in the taped conversations. "He talks the talk but he's never going to walk the walk," Cipparone told the jury.

"REPUGNANT" VIDEOS

Michael Riley, attorney for Shain Duka, said prosecutors would show militant videos, including some about the September 11 hijackers, that were found on one defendant's computer.

Riley said they were "unpleasant, shocking, repugnant and offensive," but that such videos were designed to manipulate the emotions of jurors and did not mean the defendants would ever have carried out criminal acts. "They want you to see these videos and hate these young men," he told the jurors.

Cipparone attacked the credibility of one of the FBI informants, Mahmoud Omar, an Egyptian illegal immigrant who was spared deportation in return for cooperating with the FBI.

Cipparone said Omar was only interested in the $238,000 that he was paid during the investigation and had a criminal record that was much more serious than prosecutors alleged.

"These informants are lifelong criminals," Cipparone said. "Their goal was to take the ego-building fake bravado of these young men and turn it into a terrorist plot."

A trip to a Pennsylvania firing range taken by the defendants in February 2007 was not a training camp for their plot, as prosecutors allege, but a vacation by a group of men who were good friends and loved guns, Cipparone said.

"What you are going to see is a bunch of men clowning around on vacation," the attorney told jurors.

A sixth man who pleaded guilty to supplying firearms to the group was sentenced in March to 20 months in prison.

(Editing by Claudia Parsons and Cynthia Osterman)

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