Covert Operation Leads to Big Bust of Terrorist Cell
by Jim Kouri, CPP
A 17-month FBI undercover investigation has led to charges against six men who allegedly tried to amass a small arsenal for a planned attack on soldiers at the US Army base at Fort Dix in New Jersey.
The six men—including three residing in the US illegally—were arrested Monday night by FBI agents, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers, and state and local authorities as they prepared to buy a cache of assault weapons from a man working with the FBI. Five of the men were charged Tuesday in US District Court in Camden with conspiring to kill US servicemen. A sixth faces illegal firearms charges.
According to a criminal complaint filed May 7 by a special agent in the FBI Philadelphia office, the defendants traveled several times to the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania for firearms training; collected an arsenal of handguns, shotguns, and semiautomatic assault weapons; and conducted surveillance on Fort Dix and other area military bases.
"Today we dodged a bullet," Jody Weis, Special Agent in Charge of our Philadelphia office, said in a press conference Tuesday. "We may have dodged a lot of bullets."
The men are identified in the complaint as Dritan Duka, Eljvir Duka, Shain Duka, Mohamad Shnewer, Serdar Tatar, and Agron Abdullahu.
According to the complaint, FBI agents were tipped to the plot in January 2006 when a New Jersey retail clerk reported that a videotape a customer wanted transferred to DVD contained "disturbing" content -- young men shooting assault weapons in a militia-like style while calling for jihad.
In March 2006, a cooperating witness infiltrated the group and over the next year recorded the group's alleged plans in vivid detail. Last August, the cooperating witness recorded one of the group's members explaining to the others that they could kill at least 100 soldiers by using rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, and other weapons.
"Don't worry about money," one of the defendants, Mohamad Shnewer, was recorded saying. "I have money too as I have been saving money for this plan for some time." About a week later, he described Fort Dix as a potential target, "My intent is to hit a heavy concentration of soldiers…. You hit four, five, or six Humvees and light the whole place [up] and retreat completely without any losses."
During the months leading up to Monday's arrest, the alleged plotters are recorded several times weighing the merits of additional weapons purchases. The cooperating witness claimed to have access to arms and provided the alleged plotters a list of weapons for sale. Meanwhile, he funneled information to the FBI and JTTF about the alleged plotters' plans as they developed.
In early April, one of the alleged plotters, Ditran Duka, appeared to be ready to purchase a dangerous cache of weapons, including Russian-made Kalashnikov semiautomatic rifles, or AKs. "I want all of the AKs, all the M-16s…and I need all the handguns, one of each…everything he had on the list," Duka is recorded saying.
Assistance in making the arrests was provided by the New Jersey State Police, Cherry Hill Police Department, Cherry Hill Fire Department, Camden County Sheriff's Department, Philadelphia Police Department, Pennsylvania State Police, Mt. Laurel Police Department, and Burlington County Prosecutor's Office.
SAC Weis said the case reflects a "brand new form of terrorism" that authorities are combating through joint efforts at the federal, state, and local levels. "Our greatest weapon against terrorism is unity."
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.