Jurors hear alleged plot in Fort Dix case

October 28, 2008 6:01:06 PM PDT
The paid informant who helped build the case against five men accused of plotting to attack soldiers in New Jersey took the witness stand Tuesday, but much of what jurors heard from him came in the form of secretly taped conversations with one of the accused. "We have talked a lot and we are still talking. What can we do?" informant Mahmoud Omar asked defendant Mohamad Shnewer during a 2006 discussion in which both decried U.S. treatment of Muslims.

Omar kept asking similar questions in Arabic at Shnewer's family's home in Cherry Hill. Once, Shnewer's answer was to seek help from God, saying he had helped the cause by unleashing Hurricane Katrina.

A moment later, Shnewer, then 21, had another idea.

"Here, if you want to do anything, there's Fort Dix," he said. "I am not exaggerating how easily you can strike an American base."

Omar responds enthusiastically, telling Shnewer that he served four years in the Egyptian army, that he could turn a microwave into a bomb and suggesting they could buy guns in nearby Camden.

Shnewer responds: "No, I mean heavy weapons - not machine guns.

... You need mortars and you need RPGs."

The conversation turns to other topics, but Omar keeps bringing it back to the military base. "Fort Dix comes to my mind as well," he says. "This country must be attacked."

Omar, a 39-year-old Egyptian, spent more than a year wearing a wire as authorities sorted out whether they had a case against the five men ultimately accused of plotting an attack that was never carried out. Testimony from the thin Riley, asked Stermel about the level of planning for an attack.

"You consider driving down the road and looking at a military base reconnaissance?" Riley asked.

"Yes, sir," responded Stermel, who spent about eight hours overall testifying on Monday and Tuesday.

Stermel gave the same answer when Riley asked if 10 men taking turns shooting four guns at a firing range - as the defendants did - constitutes training.

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