Fort Dix plot case goes to jury

December 16, 2008 7:34:41 PM PST
A New Jersey jury will begin deliberating Wednesday in the case of five men accused of plotting an attack on the Army's Fort Dix. Lawyers completed closing arguments in U.S. District Court on Tuesday evening.

Jurors told Judge Robert Kugler they wanted to wait until morning to begin deliberations in the case, which stretched for 29 days, much of it focused on hundreds of secret recordings and the credibility of the informants who made them.

In an unusual move, Judge Robert Kugler ordered that the jury be sequestered as they consider whether to convict the men on the seven different criminal charges they face.

The five defendants - all foreign-born Muslims who lived for years in the Philadelphia suburb of Cherry Hill - are charged with conspiring to kill military personnel and attempted murder. Four of them also face weapons charges. They face life in prison if convicted.

There was no attack before the men were arrested in May 2007. Prosecutors portray the case as an example of law enforcement officials averting what could have been a deadly attack.

In his final remarks to the jury Tuesday, Deputy U.S. Attorney William Fitzpatrick repeated that assertion as a way to explain some actions by the FBI and its informants - such as setting up a gun deal.

"The FBI investigates crime on the front end. They don't want to have to do it on the back end," Fitzpatrick told the jury of eight women and four men. "They needed to know that these guys, these defendants, did not have another source of supply for weapons. They needed to make sure that these guys aren't going to get weapons from somewhere else and do something right under our nose."

Defense lawyers argued that while the men talked boldly, they were not seriously planning anything. Rather, they say, the men were prodded along by the informants.

"We know that this is all political talk by young Muslims in the post-9/11 world," Troy Archie, the lawyer for defendant Eljvir Duka. "They were angry, yes. ... Did they have an intent to kill? No."

In his closing arguments Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Hammer reiterated the government's contention that the men traveled to the Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains in February 2007 for training.

Evidence shows that the men went to gun stores to look for weapons, fired guns at a firing range, played paintball and watched jihadist videos while there.

Michael Huff, who represents defendant Dritan Duka, said the government has it wrong. He reminded the jury of eight women and four men of times during secret recordings made by FBI informants that the men were heard referring to paintball as fun.

He also suggested that one of the informants, Mahmoud Omar, was the one who first raised the notion that the paintball games could be used as training for an attack.

Further, he said, the al-Qaeda propaganda videos the men watched took up only one hour of the week they spent in the Poconos. He pointed to testimony about other movies they watched, such as an Eddie Murphy concert film.

And Huff reminded jurors of testimony from a Philadelphia police officer who said one of the suspects, Serdar Tatar, invited him on to go with his friends to the shooting range. Neither the officer nor Tatar ended up making the trip.

But it was still relevant, Huff said.

"Are you going to invite a police officer to your jihad training party?" he asked. Prosecutors said defense lawyers were making such arguments to deflect attention from the damning words and actions of the defendants.

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