Gov't rests case in Fort Dix plot trial

December 9, 2008 1:43:54 PM PST
Prosecutors rested their case Tuesday against five men accused of planning to kill American soldiers at New Jersey's Fort Dix, after 25 days of presenting evidence. Defense lawyers said they will call only a few witnesses Wednesday, clearing the way for closing arguments to begin early next week. Deliberations could begin as early as Dec. 16.

The defendants are not expected to testify.

The suspects - five foreign-born Muslim men who spent years in the comfortable Philadelphia suburb of Cherry Hill - face charges including attempted murder and conspiracy to kill military personnel. If convicted, they could be sentenced to life in prison.

No plot was carried out before the men - Mohamad Shnewer, Serdar Tatar and brothers Dritan, Eljvir and Shain Duka - were arrested in May 2007. All were in their 20s at the time.

Lawyers for the men say their clients were not seriously planning anything but were portrayed like a terrorist cell by two paid government witnesses, whose testimony dominated the trial.

U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler told jurors that they would be sequestered during deliberations - an uncommon step for a federal trial in New Jersey.

Prosecutors have tried to convince jurors that the suspects were working on an attack that could have been one of the most devastating examples of homegrown terrorism in the United States.

On Tuesday, they called terrorism expert Evan Coleman as their final witness. Coleman told jurors that the jihadist - referring to holy war - propaganda videos found on computers belonging to two of the men have been found on the computers of homegrown terrorists around the world, calling them "some of the classics."

Coleman said the fact that the men also tried to buy guns and engaged in what the government calls training bolster the likelihood that they were planning to strike.

He also said that the haphazard way the men seemed to act - goofing off at firing ranges and never meeting to discuss details of an attack - didn't mean they were not going to carry one out.

"It doesn't take a lot of sophistication to kill people," Coleman told jurors. "Ultimately, it comes down to interest. It doesn't take a lot of thought to create chaos."

On cross-examination, Coleman conceded that the presence of the videos did not prove the men were willing to engage in terrorism and acknowledged that there was no evidence that some of the suspects saw all the videos or heard all the jihadist audio recordings.

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