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Jury Finds Fort Dix Five Guilty

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Today, a verdict in an important terrorism case. The target was Fort Dix, the Army base in New Jersey. The attack never happened, but a federal jury found five men, all of them foreign-born Muslims, guilty of conspiring to kill U.S. soldiers. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston has been following the story and joins me now. And Dina first, who are men who were convicted today?

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, the suspects were three brothers - Dritan Duka, Shain Duka and Eljvir Duka - and two of their friends - a man named Mohamad Shnewer and another man named Serdar Tatar. The Duka brothers were all from Yugoslavia. Shnewer was from Jordan, and Tatar was born in Turkey. And all of men had been in the U.S. for years, and they all had various immigration statuses. Some were here illegally, several had green cards and one was actually a citizen.

SIEGEL: Well, we know that they didn't actually attack Fort Dix, but they were convicted of conspiring to do so. So, what did they actually do that persuaded the jury?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, the trigger to actually arresting them was that they were buying AK-47s and M16s from an FBI informant for this actual attack. Leading up to that, they actually had infiltrated the group and they were following the group. So, in the end, I think what they had on them was this idea that they were actually going buy weapons and go forward with an attack. And the defense said that this was all bravado and they never intended to attack anything and that they were sort of pulled into this plot by informants. But in the end, I think the jury ended up believing the prosecution, which was that these men intended to do something at Fort Dix.

SIEGEL: So, the FBI had actually infiltrated this well before the arrest, you say?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes, 15 months. Now, what's interesting is the way this all came about - is the FBI saw these people, or realized that they were suspects, after a clerk at a Circuit City had called the authorities because he'd seen a DVD in which these men were apparently doing some sort of target practice in the Poconos while screaming praises to Allah. And this frightened the clerk, so he called the FBI and the FBI then put informants into the group.

SIEGEL: Now, was any connection even alleged here between these men and al-Qaeda?

TEMPLE-RASTON: No, not at all. I mean, they've been very quick to say that this is not an Osama bin Laden-linked group, although, they say they were inspired by Osama bin Laden and watched his videos. This is definitely a home-grown, New Jersey-grown terrorist group, they said.

SIEGEL: Now, Dina, I gather this was considered an important case because of the way that the FBI made it. How so? What's special about this prosecution?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, this is something that they called preemptive terrorism arrest. And this kind of preemptive prosecution has been happening a lot since 9/11. And the results have been mixed. I mean, some juries have convicted these people, other have said that the way the law enforcement connects the dots, they just don't believe that there are this big conspiracies. Critics say that this methods makes government informants play too big a role in this prosecutions. And sometimes, defense attorneys say, the informants push suspects to do something they wouldn't ordinarily do. I mean, that's what the defense said in this case. But it appears that the jury didn't buy it and they thought these men were guilty, and so they convicted them.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Dina.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Dina Temple-Raston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Dina Temple-Raston is a correspondent on NPR's Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories and national security, technology and social justice.
Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.